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U.S. Deports Sikh Asylum Seeker

A Herlad-Tribune report dated September 17, 2004 added, "Paramvir Singh Chattwal would rather stay in jail than be sent back to his native India, where he says he would face another round of beatings and torture. Chattwal, 30, says he is so afraid of returning to India that he will take his life before someone else does. . . . Chattwal suffered numerous broken bones and was bedridden for nearly three years. He still carries the scars of stab wounds and burn marks and has a metal rod in his leg and walks with a limp.

The Herald-Tribune, Oct. 21, 2004

Photo: Paramvir Singh Chattwal

Immigration officials deported an Indian national from a Florida jail on Monday, leaving human rights advocates baffled.

Paramvir Singh Chattwal boarded a plane to India over his own protests and those of his supporters, including several international prisoner rights groups. Chattwal, who spent nearly a year in a Manatee County jail before being moved last month, said he fears being persecuted in India for witnessing the execution of four teenagers by Indian police in 1991.

Chattwal, 30, came to America in 1999 on a visitor visa hoping to get asylum. But a series of events landed him in Bradenton's immigration jail in October 2003.

He was moved to a Miami detention facility in September after newspapers in this area, including the Herald-Tribune, wrote about his plight.

Advocates at Amnesty International have known Chattwal since March and have worked to get him transferred to Canada. Last month, they issued an alert about Chattwal and urged members to write to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and ask for the release of Chattwal to Detroit officials.

Bill Frelick, director of Amnesty's refugee program, called I.C.E.'s decision a shame.

'It shows a very callous approach that disregarded some unique circumstances,' Frelick said.

'My heart just sank,' said Niki Kelly, a case coordinator for Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services' Center for Survivors of Torture, who worked with Chattwal. 'We know we did everything possible we could to advocate for him . . . If they wanted him to leave the country so badly, why wouldn't they let him just go to Canada?'

I.C.E. officials have said they're following policy.

'This case clearly reflects the due process rights that this country affords,' said Michael Rozos, field office director for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Miami, in a written statement. 'He had his day in court and failed to appear. A judge issued a removal order and the order was upheld at every level, so I.C.E. carried out the order.'

Chattwal's deportation order came after he missed an immigration hearing, which he maintains that he never knew about because his attorney never told him.

Chattwal, a member of the Sikh faith, has said that police officials would kill him once he returns to India because he's a witness and could testify against police there.

Manjit Singh, president and co-founder of Sikh Media Watch, said he was shocked to learn that Chattwal was deported. 'He's definitely in danger because we don't know how the Indian bureaucracy will react to his asylum request,' in the U.S., Singh said.