Washington DC – The US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, along with Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump, unveiled the 2019 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report at the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the US State Department on Thursday (June 20). This carried a special interest for Indian Americans, who are still shocked by the tragic death of 6-year-old Gurupreet Kaur in the Arizona desert, just a month before her seventh birthday.
Gurupreet Kaur’s body was discovered 17 miles west of Lukeville by Border Patrol. She was reportedly traveling with four others and dropped near the international boundary by human smugglers who ordered the group to cross in the “dangerous and austere” location.
She died of heat stroke in the Arizona desert where temperatures were 108 degrees Fahrenheit, according to US Border Patrol and the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner (PCOME).
“Our sympathies are with this little girl and her family,” said Tucson Chief Patrol Agent Roy Villareal, adding, “This is a senseless death driven by cartels who are profiting from putting lives at risk.”
Later at a press briefing, John Cotton Richmond, Ambassador-at-large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, drew a line of demarcation between Human Smuggling and Human Trafficking when asked about the Kaur death case.
Defining Human smuggling, the Ambassador called it “a crime of movement; it’s a crime that violates the integrity of a country’s borders. It can be done voluntarily or involuntarily.”
And then distinguishing it from human trafficking, the Ambassador said, “Human trafficking is a crime against someone’s fundamental rights to be free. It’s a crime not about movement but about coercion, and it’s always involuntary. And I think it’s important for us to keep a clear line of distinction between what human smuggling is and what human trafficking is. Obviously in any individual case there may be some overlap. We may have a smuggling offense and a trafficking offense, but they’re not coextensive.”
Two US based organizations, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) and Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), are calling for a probe into the death and blamed the broken US immigration system.
SALDEF Executive Director Kiran Kaur Gill said, “We have been working to ensure Sikh asylum seekers receive fair and humane treatment in the asylum process and are ensured the appropriate religious accommodation afforded to all under our laws. We encourage the community to stay engaged on this issue.”
Echoing the SALDEF point of view, Lakshmi Sridaran, Interim Co-Executive Director of SAALT said, “US border militarization, forced migration, and rejection of migrants attempting to cross at ports of entry have created an environment where a child like Gurupreet, can die in the desert, alone.”
But there were strong points of view against the human smugglers, and risking lives of children by their parents and relatives, plus the US organizations with vested interests trying to keep their business going by preying on gullible people.
Reacting to the reports, Jesse Singh, Chairman, Sikhs of America told IAT in a statement: “The tragic death of 6-year-old Gurupreet Kaur in the Arizona desert, just a month before her seventh birthday, is heart-breaking to the family, friends and the community. Our heart-felt sympathies are with the affected people.”
Addressing the people in India especially the Northern Indian State of Punjab where the young Kaur hailed from, Singh issued a caution: “This tragedy is a stark reminder to all in Punjab and other parts of India – to refrain from making such desperate illegal attempts to enter the US.”
Calling upon the Indian authorities, Singh added, “We call upon the Indian Embassy to relay to the Indian Federal Government and state government in Punjab to give it as much coverage as possible, and educate the population about the dangers of illegal crossings into the US. The governments there also must crack down on human smuggling rings and unscrupulous agents who are exploiting people for monetary gain.”
Lambasting the US based organizations who are attacking the US in migration and border control systems, Singh said, “These organizations are running fear shops and making money from the American Sikh community. They should neither sensationalize nor politicize these to make money from the community, and instead address the real issues. The government of India, and especially Punjab, should try to put these human smuggling agents out of business.”
Ravi Batra, prominent Indian American attorney and Chairman of National Advisory Council on South Asian Affairs, and former member of NYS Joint Commission on Public Ethics reacted with shock and dismay telling IAT in a statement, “Heart wrenching story of an innocent 6 year old dying from extreme heat. That her adult parent(s) made the conscious choice to enter the attractive not-so-porous Southern Border of the United States hiring human traffickers is criminally negligent.”
Batra added, “We need to put the traffickers out of business, and once the Indian Embassy has gained article 36 VCCR access, perhaps they can secure a discharge from custody and arrange a safe return to India. Anything else will continue the Hobson’s Choice for both these persons and the United States.”