Driven to desperation, S. Kaur made the decision to cross the US-Mexico border with her 6-year-old daughter Gurupreet, just a month before the child’s 7th birthday.
The pair was hoping to make it to New York where the girl’s father had been living since 2013. However, with temperatures reaching 108 degrees in the Arizona desert, Gurupreet was unable to complete the journey.
According to US Customs and Border Protection, the mother and daughter were traveling with three other Indian nationals — another mother and daughter, and a woman. The group was reportedly dropped off by human smugglers near the Mexico border and eventually separated when Gurupreet’s mother and one other woman went to search for water. The group was unable to locate each other again and the two women were discovered by a Border Patrol agent on June 12.
After several hours of searching, Gurupreet’s body was found 17 miles west of Lukeville; according to reports, her death was the result of a heat stroke. After another day of searching the other mother and her 8-year-old daughter were discovered alive and relocated to a local hospital to receive treatment for dehydration. Authorities are still unclear on how this group of three became separated and what happened to them after Gurupreet’s mother left to search for water.
According to CNN, the number of Indian nationals crossing US borders has increased significantly within recent years — last year, more than 9,000 Indian citizens were detained at US borders, the year before that the figure was roughly 3,100 people, and in 2009, only 204.
Gurupreet’s parents spoke of the death of their daughter for the first time in a statement from the nonprofit Sikh Coalition, stating, “We wanted a safer and better life for our daughter and we made the extremely difficult decision to seek asylum here in the United States.”
They explained that they made the dangerous journey, ultimately because they felt it was their only choice, “We trust that every parent, regardless of origin, color or creed, will understand that no mother or father ever puts their child in harm’s way unless they are desperate,” they wrote.
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) have also released a statement regarding the tragic death of Gurupreet, condemning the recent administration’s anti-immigration policies and enforcement tactics. “As US Customs and Border Protection has escalated border enforcement and aggressively turned away migrants attempting to cross at ports of entry, deaths have continued to mount,” they wrote. “Migrants are forced right back into the dangerous conditions that CBP and other federal agencies often blame on migrant traffickers and smugglers.”
While Gurupreet’s parents are mourning the loss of their daughter, they have been reunited in New York City, “the city her family had hoped to make their home,” according to the Sikh Coalition. They are currently planning their daughter’s funeral and have asked for privacy during this difficult time.
“We will carry the burden of the loss of our beloved Gurupreet for a lifetime,” they wrote in a statement, “but we will also continue to hold onto the hope that America remains a compassionate nation grounded in the immigrant ideals that make diversity this nation’s greatest strength.”
Featured image via Getty Images