An Indian couple who were deported to India from Utah 10 years ago after living in the US for 14 years, but decided to leave behind their then-12-year-old American-born son so he could continue his education and become in the doctor in the United States, are back in Utah, and reunited with their son, and met their grandson for the first time.
Ken Sah and his wife Sarita Sah left the US on July 6, 2006, after 14 years in the United States, after they lost a lengthy appeal with immigration authorities. They were determined to work within the system, rather than disappearing among an estimated 11 million undocumented residents, reported The Salt Lake Tribune.
They left behind their son, Kunal Sah. At the time, the couple believed they would not be gone long.
“Just leave now and you’ll be back in a year or two,” Ken said last Wednesday, his first full day back in Green River, according to the Tribune report. “That’s what everybody told us.”
That was not to be. The months turned into years, and then a decade.
The Salt Lake Tribune detailed the family’s journey. Ken originally traveled to the West Coast in 1992 on a student visa to train as an aircraft mechanic. Sarita soon followed. But with a slump in the aircraft industry, the young couple tried other low-paying jobs.
In 1997, they bought a little, run-down motel in Green River — located along Interstate 70, an hour from the famed redrock of Arches and Canyonlands. With their 4-year-old son, they painted and spruced up the place. After a number of years, they took out a loan and built a second motel, a Ramada Inn. They were, according to many Green River residents, perfect citizens. They worked hard, paid taxes, provided jobs.
In 1995, they applied for asylum. Ken, in his application said he feared for his safety back in India. In hindsight, it may not have been the best legal strategy for residency because later, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, immigration policies tightened.
Despite all that, if the Sahs were not called to an immigration hearing within 10 years of their application, they would be granted legal status. But 9 years and 9 months after their application, an immigration judge ruled against them in a brief hearing.
After a long legal battle, the Sah family lost their appeal. And were deported. They left their motel to Ken’s brother, but Kunal and his uncle didn’t get along well.
The decade has been tumultuous for Kunal. He spent time in juvenile detention. He was saved from his uncle by a loving foster family in Price. And, at 18, he was put in charge of the Ramada and struggled to save the family business, reported the Salt Lake Tribune.
The Emory County Progress had earlier reported that Kunal did stay with his family in India for 45 days, 40 of which he was sick and in and out of the hospital. Kunal returned to America after that.
Alex Cabrero, a reporter with KSL 5 news, interviewed Kunal in September, 2006. Cabrero asked Kunal about his parents in India, and he responded: “They are sick, they are not used to the environment. They are not working and are staying with family. I came back to get an education. My dad believes my educational opportunities are greater here than in India.”
Kunal then said things are hard for him and he cries often as he misses his parents. Cabrero told Kunal it looks like he is the man of the family in America trying to help take care of the businesses in his father’s absence. Kunal said, “When I talk to my dad he is really sad.” Cabrero asked Kunal what he hopes for. “I hope to see my parent’s come home and walk through the door of the motel.”
Cabrero asked Kunal how he spends his time. “I go to school every day and do my homework. I have been studying for the spelling bee. I talk to my parents on the phone every day, but the connections are not good.”
Cabrero asked Kunal what it was like to go to the National Spelling Bee in Washington DC. Kunal was preparing for it when his parents got deported. Kunal said it was an amazing experience and he learned so much that helps him with his spelling preparations now.
Life changed a lot for Kunal thereafter. Now, the Sah family can perhaps get back the happiness they lost a decade ago.
(This post was revised and updated on May 25, 2018).