One of them is still married, to a woman, in India.
By Deepak Chitnis
Jagdish Kumar and Sukhwinder were permitted entrance into the US after being detained at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in El Paso, Texas, for six months. Because India upheld legislation on December 11, 2013, making same-sex relations illegal, Kumar and Sukhwinder were officially granted asylum from persecution on December 20th.
Kumar and Sukhwinder left India in June of 2012, fearing violence from society as a result of their sexual orientation. Through a route that took them from Dubai to Cyprus, then Central America to South America, up through Mexico. They were held in El Paso.
While being held by the ICE, Kumar and Sukhwinder were kept in separate cells, and were not permitted to interact with each other. Their release was championed by Immigration Equality, an advocacy group dedicated to fighting for LGBT causes in the US. The organization petitioned for a joint cell, which was denied, but the couple’s case was finally heard, leading to their release.
Asylum is only given to those who can establish a credible reason for not being able to live in their home country, such as religious persecution and political persuasion. Once given temporary asylum, the person (or persons) will have to appear in court on an appointed date and have their case reviewed, at which point a judge will decide if they may stay in the country longer or not.
Indian asylum seekers to the US have shot up dramatically in recent years. According to numbers released last year, the number of illegal immigrants in the US who originated from India is estimated to be about 240,000, which makes India the 7th-highest ranked country in that regard. Â Between the years 2000 and 2009, the Department of Homeland Security estimates that illegal immigration from India spiked 64%, going from about 140,244 to right around 230,000.
Kumar and Sukhwinder now reside in La Crosse, Wisconsin, roughly two-and-a-half hours west of the state’s capital, Madison. Wisconsin is one of the small but increasing number of states that recognize same-sex marriage in the US, but the couple still cannot get married.
The reason for this is that Kumar is still married to a woman in India. According to him, the marriage was borne out of pressure Kumar faced from his family, who got him married seven years ago. Kumar and his wife moved to Chandigarh, which is where he met Sukhwinder. Subsequently, they eloped, but the US cannot recognize any marriage if one partner is still officially wed in another country.
The couple is now awaiting their court date to determine a potential path to citizenship. It is unclear if Kumar will have to go back to India to finalize a divorce with his first wife, or if he even can under his current situation.
To contact the author, email to Â firstname.lastname@example.org