A recent decision by a federal appeals court to grant haven to an Indian political activist has highlighted the role of asylum in U.S. law and the unique role of immigration courts in applying the nation’s commitment to protect individuals from persecution abroad.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Jan. 29 that Chanpreet Kaur, a Punjabi activist in support of an independent Sikh state and a member of an opposition political party in India, was entitled to asylum after members of the Indian National Congress Party attempted to gang rape her on a street in retaliation for her political activities and later threatened to kill her. Kaur’s family was then repeatedly attacked by police who had learned of the woman’s departure to the U.S. The INCP, which was not in power in Punjab when its members committed the attempted gang rape and threatened Kaur, won the provincial elections held a month later. By then, Kaur had left India.
Kaur was denied both asylum and protection against deportation by an immigration judge, who found her testimony credible but decided she had not endured any persecution. The immigration judge also concluded that, even if Kaur had been persecuted — a term of art under the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 and international treaties on refugees — there wasn’t a close enough tie to the Punjabi or Indian governments or to affiliated individuals those governments would not or could not control.
The immigration judge dismissed Kaur’s petition and ignored Kaur’s argument that she should not be deported and her claim that the Convention Against Torture required the U.S. to shield her. He then ordered her removed from the country.