Mark Gomes has lived in the United States since 1991, after fleeing his native Bangladesh, allegedly fearing religious persecution. Gomes and his wife came in on six-month business visas and applied for religious asylum a year later, but were denied for lack of documents.
A family friend, who asked not be identified, told India-West that the Gomes – who are Christian - had a catering business in Dhaka. After the Gulf War began in 1990, the two were targeted by people in the predominantly Muslim country for their supposed ties to Christian nations believed to be supporting the war.
The Gomes resettled in their ancestral village and became active with the local church. But the church, too, was soon destroyed, as vandals one day broke down the door, broke several pieces of equipment, and desecrated the communion, which is sacred to Christians.
The couple – who now have two American children – came to the United States shortly after and fought their asylum case for 15 years, then gave up in 2004 and went out of immigration status.
Similarly, community activist Jai Shankar, who has lived in the United States for more than two decades, is also facing imminent deportation, according to his attorney Sandra Grossman.
Shankar fled India when his family found out about his relationship with a Muslim girl. The girl’s family allegedly brutally beat her, leaving Shankar fearing for his own life, Grossman told India-West.
The Indian American civil engineer filed for religious asylum after arriving in the United States in 1991, but was denied a decade later.
Shankar was taken into ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) custody in 2009, when he went to local police to report that his camera had been stolen. Police instead turned the 45-year-old man over to immigration officials, who found Shankar in violation of a 2001 removal order issued by a judge, and detained him for five months at a correctional facility. He was then released, but is being monitored with an ankle bracelet.
On Feb. 3, Grossman filed for a stay of deportation on Shankar’s behalf. The stay request listed a number of supporters, including two Washington, D.C. council members, the chairman of a tenants’ rights advocacy group and civil rights organization South Asian Americans Leading Together.
Shankar will be deported once ICE obtains travel documents for him, according to Grossman.
“The positives of Mr. Shankar’s case far outweigh the negatives,” said Grossman, noting that he has contributed thousands of hours to community service.
Jim McGrath, chairman of the D.C. Tenants’ Advocacy Coalition, described Shankar as a “heroic fellow.”
“Since 2008, Mr. Shankar has volunteered considerable time, at no financial gain to himself, to assist evictees, the homeless and the disabled in the Washington, D.C., area,” wrote McGrath in his statement of support.
Gomes was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2008 and held in a detention center for six months before being released on an order of supervision. ICE issued him a work permit which allowed the former ice cream vendor to work as a school bus driver until he was picked up again last December and held in custody for two months.
The Gomes’ family friend told India-West it was unclear whether Mark Gomes would get his old job back.
Asked why the Gomes’ could not return to Bangladesh, the friend said the couple has an epileptic daughter, for whom adequate treatment could not be provided in their native country.
“They have lost so much there. And they fear going back,” said the friend, adding that the couple would still face religious persecution.
Priya Murthy, policy director for SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together ), told India-West that Gomes and Shankar were out of sync with a new prosecutorial memo issued by ICE director John Morton last June. The memo provides guidelines for prioritizing deportations.
Morton advised federal agents to consider the length of stay in the country and the lack of criminal record, among other factors.
“Mark Gomes and Jai Shankar are individuals who ICE might have had in mind when it sent out its prosecutorial discretion memos,” said Murthy. “They’ve both contributed back to their communities and they pose no threat. They should be able to benefit from those memos,” she said.
ICE must put strong regulations in place to implement the spirit of Morton’s memos, rather than determining deportations on a case-by-case discretionary basis, stated Murthy.
Petitions in support of Gomes and Shankar are being circulated on the website change.org.
Sunita Sohrabji is a staff writer for India West.
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