I’ll Be Rooting For You, Kunal

Via the newstab (thanks, KXB!) there’s an article on thirteen-year-old Kunal Sah of Green River, Utah, who will be representing the state in the upcoming Scripps National Spelling Bee at the end of May. Kunal’s story is unlike those of other brown spellers we usually hear about. His parents were deported last year after living in this country legally for sixteen years.

According to the article:

Ken and Sarita Sah were deported back to India last July after 16 years residing legally in this country. Ken Sah came to the country as a student, and later applied for asylum because the region of India from which he came was experiencing religious violence. Then Sah waited for an asylum hearing for nearly 10 years. Had 10 years passed without a hearing, Sah would have been granted automatic asylum. But three weeks shy of that 10-year window, he got a hearing, and was denied asylum. He appealed until he ran out of appeals last year. Tougher immigration laws after 9/11 made his request for asylum more difficult. He and his wife ultimately lost their battle to remain in the country.

Kunal, however, was born in the US, so he’s a citizen. His family owns and operates two motels in Utah. Kunal is currently staying with his uncle, who’s also overseeing the family business in the Sahs’ absence. The irony of this story, however, was not missed on a local journalist:

Patsy Stoddard, the editor of the Emery County Progress newspaper, describes Ken and Sarita as model citizens. “Our governor went to India to bring back a baby,” she says. “And yet here is a family torn apart, and nobody is doing anything about it.”

Regardless of anyone’s views on the immigration process, my heart goes out to Kunal.

In a telephone interview, Ken Sah is matter-of-fact. “It’s very tough. He calls every day, and he cries,” he says of his son. “He needs to live with his parents. But he doesn’t have that. We try to make him feel better and stronger.”

And yet Kunal is undeterred:

While his classmates enjoy the spring-like weather, Kunal is learning the hotel business and studying. “Mainly, I just want to finish school in this country. I want to go to Harvard,” he offers. “My classmates have more freedom than I do. But I spend my time educationally and want to gain more knowledge…When I am missing them, I mostly just go to spelling study,” he says.

What is most haunting for me is the note that he posts above his desk to motivate himself:

If I study and win the National Spelling Bee, and go to a good university, I will benefit myself. But if I don’t I will regret myself for my whole life.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee will commence May 31, 2007. Best of luck, Kunal.

74 thoughts on “I’ll Be Rooting For You, Kunal

  1. as my parents were Tamil residents of Colombo during the 83 riots (a tragedy whether you are naive or foolish and believe it to be a spontaneous eruption of Sinhala chauvinism or are rational and believe it to be largely the creation of governmental power)we could have easily claimed political refugee status, upon entering the US, as the bloodthirsty mob came upon my parent’s apt in Bambalapitiya that night, not to offer love cake and upland tea, but to rape, burn and pillage as they may.

    this boy’s father’s argument that he was persecuted as a radical rightist Hindu doesn’t seem to hold much water (in either Bihar or Gujurat depending on which story you read–Bihar presents a better numbers argument for him than Gujurat and Gujurat definitely is the more volatile state)) so one would look askance, as an informed person, at any immigration/homeland security officer throwing his/her arms open in welcome to such an obvious extremist (given the current national mood on security–a general feeling of insecurity.) I always like to compare this to the US starting a drive to admit large numbers of Pol Pot’s senior officers back to the States in an effort to protect a persecuted minority. Knowledge of the simple base material or perhaps a taxing google search would have afforded this immigration officer with the knowledge to render a fair and just decision: deny request for asylum.

    It is entirely possible that this 15-16 year delay was afforded by either a loophole in prior immigration law or the clever machinations of Sah’s attorneys–however I find it hard to believe that if the initial immigration officer had made the correct determination that this would have been allowed to come to this point. There are many people waiting for the chance to enter this country and achieve financial stability–the Sah’s should not get a chance over all the others just because some government employee failed to do his/her homework.

    There are, however, many such VHP or RSS affiliated NRIs in the US. Many of them operate successful businesses or are professionals and, like Ken Sah, do not make many waves upon entering the US and do not court violence, controversy or any kind of sweeping change (unless you count the textbook controversy). Don’t the Sah’s look like the very kind of wacko religious fundamentalist that we would want in America? Someone who doesn’t bring their perceived “medieval fight” to the the states? I was seriously disappointed by the conservative blogosphere’s reaction to this piece–much ‘open-borders libbers” comments but none on how thoroughly Mr. Sah’s ideology excoriates, denigrates and demonizes Islam and all Muslims. I would have thought that would raise a cheer from the Debbie Schlussels, Michelle Malkins, Robert Spencers and M. Savage’s of the world who genuinely believe that Islam is unreformable and all pious Muslims (or all Muslims who do not spontaneously jump to the fore of their social circle to exclaim in triumphant tones, “oh I am saved, lord, from the terrorism-fostering ways of my religion!) to be somehow defective and thus deserving of much higher levels of scrutiny than any other kind of immigrant.

  2. There are, however, many such VHP or RSS affiliated NRIs in the US. Many of them operate successful businesses or are professionals and, like Ken Sah, do not make many waves upon entering the US and do not court violence. Don’t the Sah’s look like the very kind of wacko religious fundamentalist that we would want in America? Someone who doesn’t bring their perceived “medieval fight” to the the states?

    I have spoken to a lawyer and activists who have worked with the families of some British citizens who were caught up in the Gujarat riots, British citizens of Gujarati Muslim descent who were visiting family at the time. It is important to know that British citizens visiting Gujarat at the time were murdered by mobs. I won’t go into details, but Gujarati Muslims living in the UK have been taunted and persecuted by RSS and VHP people in England, the same people that hosted Modi and cheered him as a Hindu hero in Wembley. They have deep roots in the UK too, a VHP affiliated charity is under investigation by the British charity commission for siphoning money meant for earthquake relief into fascist schools and activity in India. It’s almost impossible to get the mainstream press interested in these stories though, because it does not fit into the narrative of the model minority and all eyes are fixed solely on Muslim extremism at the moment. And these people are ‘respectable’ middle class men and women, ostensibly well integrated into British society.

  3. Don’t the Sah’s look like the very kind of wacko religious fundamentalist that we would want in America? Someone who doesn’t bring their perceived “medieval fight” to the the states? I was seriously disappointed by the conservative blogosphere’s reaction to this piece–much ‘open-borders libbers” comments but none on how thoroughly Mr. Sah’s ideology excoriates, denigrates and demonizes Islam and all Muslims.

    How do you know that? Sah used the ‘Muslim persecuting him’ reason as a means of staying in the US and not because he hates Muslims. He should have gone with lower caste or Christian or something.

    Anyway, I cant imagine that he actually believed that he had a credible fear of going back to India. I havnt seen any evidence that he had any animus towards Muslims. For all we know he might be an atheist.

  4. Illankan, you’re reading way too much into it. This guy (Sah) cooked up a (bullshit) reason to claim asylum…and that’s probably all there is to it. I don’t think it reflects any real beliefs or ideologies he may have. In all likelihood he’s too preoccupied with making money and raising an uber-academic kid to bother with the RSS or VHP or anything like that.

  5. 47 Kush,

    You were lucky that you were not asked to mis-represent or lie, so was I. It was just mere luck that some of us did not have to answer some of those questions, but lets not forget that during the mid and early nineties majority of student visa seeker’s were asked to show property and had to convice US consulate officers that they are not seeking to immigrate to the US. So when after F1 and H1 a student (turned worker) applies for immigration, there are chances that he/she is doing something that he/she claimed he/she would NOT do as a condition to enter this great nation.

    This guy is just not as lucky as some of us “legal route -ers” who were born into upper middle class or inherited the right to enter this nation.

  6. Actually, an H-1 visa applicant is allowed to have “dual-intent” meaning the intent to immigrate, and does not have to demonstrate that he/she will return to their home country.

    The US government does not want immigrants to come via F1 (or atleast the US Consulate gives that impession)

    There are more than 80,000 Indian students studying in the U.S. I think you’ll find that the opposite is true.

  7. Actually, an H-1 visa applicant is allowed to have “dual-intent” meaning the intent to immigrate, and does not have to demonstrate that he/she will return to their home country.

    that is true.

    also, RC, you are confusing issues. Often if the student was admitted on full assistantship or fellowship (as shown on I-20) by the uni or foundation, for most part, the consulate officer at US embassies would not ask for any additional documentation. sometimes, asking for financial documentation, they tried to determine whether the students that were fully/ partly self-funded their veracity of claim, also the student’s primary intent in education (they give thousands of students from india visa every year, and some of them are really not students or even qualified to be students – again misrepresentation of highest order). true, i know “immigration question and other demeaning questions***” used to come during student visas in 90s, but that was their filter in determining other things – they all knew most of the students immigrate. there was always a pecking order in these things – an iit student headed for PhD at Caltech on full financial aid is not asked anything. be as it may be, that is the way things are.

    there is even separate category for H-1B for students educated (MS/ PhD) in US from last few years. sometimes, employers go to India and other countries, to hire nurses and physicians straight on H-1 and other visas. it is all supply and demand.

    you know that they have been cases when US citizenship has been stripped away many years later if some one on paper lied on their visa/ immigration issues earlier.

    *** i also know if you are from Germany or other western european countries, and apply for student visa, such questions do not even exist. these are facts.

    again, i find no justification in supporting someone’s elaborate lie, and demonizing a community (muslims in this case) for your financial gain

  8. an iit student headed for PhD at Caltech on full financial aid is not

    What percentage of total student visa applicant fit the above profile ?? This is unfortunately again an elitist look at the issue. Majority of students do NOT come to us with full assistantship. Why would American state’s tax payers pay for education of a foreign national?? I know that in certain cases the University uses the assistantships as a recruiting tool to get the best and brightest, but lets face it those are minority students. Let me give you an example. My roommate at a state Uni. here was from IIT Madras with a super high GPA (somewhere in the 9′s) and 2390 GRE score. I have seen his score with my own eyes. This exceptional individual did not get funding to study Comp. Sc in which he had undergrad, so he had to chose Biomedical Engineering.

  9. You’d probably get your visa without any major scrutiny if at least one of the following hold: a) US News has a good opinion of your college, b) you have been offered full financial support. But the latter is more important as if you don’t have financial support you are supposed to have around $50,000 in your account, which is impossible for most Indians unless they have a rich uncle in the US(or some substitute like really rich daddy). In the past if you were smart you could get financial support, but this is getting harder and harder. The result is that the smart-but-no-rich-uncle category is not even bothering to apply anymore, making things even easier for ho-hum-with-rich-uncles. Of course when I say ho-hum I mean ho-hum only by Indian standards, which is still pretty good(thanks to the that-which-does-not-kill Indian education system). But its still a sad situation for smart guys who don’t come from well-off backgrounds.

  10. I would rather spend time in math / science club, atleast in those clubs you learn relevant things that will help you in future classes.

    hmm, spelling bee is to languages (and so maybe later if the kid does choose to go that way, to literature or journalism, proofreading, linguistics) what Maths/Physics Olympiads are to maths/science. You are showing a bias towards science and maths deeming them useful as opposed to language based competitions which may not necessarily be true (though I’d rather they did vocabulary competitions as opposed to spelling ones)

    Interestingly in India, Maths/Physics Olympiads along with the NTSE (National Talent Search Examination) are the more prestigious and coveted competitions, while in the US spelling bees are pretty high on the prestige list. May be a reflection of societal preferences for choice of career (though media coverage for bees may be a factor too).

  11. My roommate at a state Uni. here was from IIT Madras with a super high GPA (somewhere in the 9′s) and 2390 GRE score.

    wow, what is this place. The example you give might be true but its very rare, unless the dude is in a top 3-4 University or was too specific in his application.

    As for the financial proof during a visa interview, the whole idea behind it is to make sure that students who are coming here without funding have a source of funds from back home so that they dont caught in a situation where they cant afford to pay their fees etc and do something illegal etc. Nothing wrong with that, the problem comes when some of the visa officers get over zealous and start harassing people – like those with funding.

  12. Sah noted that he “took a very active part in organizing and conducting [anti-mosque] meeting[s]” and that he “actively participated in the riots to [attempt to] demolish the Babri Mosque.” Id.

    Lovely. We must grant him asylum ASAP.

  13. Ok this is beyond comical.

    Sah’s original asylum application provided evidence of his role in the persecution of Muslims by stating that Sah had a leadership role in a group favoring the demolition of the Babri Mosque. Sah bore the burden of refuting this evidence and demonstrating that he was not disqualified from seeking asylum. See Hernandez v. Reno, 258 F.3d 806, 812 (8th Cir. 2001); see also Elzour v. Ashcroft, 378 F.3d 1143, 1151 n.10 (10th Cir. 2004) (applying a similar allocation of burdens under a different provision of § 1158(b)(2)(A)).

    LOL!

  14. The example you give might be true but its very rare,

    Ofcourse its true. I have no way of knowing how common or rare it is. My roommate did have assistanship but not to study Comp. Sceince, which he studied after he completed BioMed. I think a lot of student visa seeker’s dont realize that a University does not gain from funding a Grad student’s education in most cases (unless student signs up as a PhD candidate). What justification will the University give to local US Citizen undergrads who have to cough up 23 grand in tuition, while it funds foreign nationals Graduate studies??? But this almost obvious fact is lost on lot of people.

    PhD is a different situation. With PhD (and some Master’s programs), students do engage in serious research, resulting in direct benefit to the University.

    And yeah, watching 60 minutes today I realized, that there is another way brown people will be able to LEGALLY immigrate to the US. If only the brownland is fortunate to be INVADED by the US and there are massive fuck-ups of all sorts. Then the brown people will be welcome (as long as they are not muslim, which is what is happening to Iraqis).

    I think he is caught up in his own web of lies, since Babri Masjid was not destroyed till 1992, he had left India in 1990.

    Legal merits( it looks more like de-merits) of the Sah case is a seperate issue, which must have been ruled based on evidence and precedence.

  15. RC, I may be confused, but are you seriously arguing that illegal immigration is the only way in to this country? That every first genner here is either “illegal” or, at the very least, abused the system?

    I think there’s clearly a difference between someone who goes through the established process of being educated and trained in the USA and someone who whines about a bullshit asylum claim being overruled (granted, letting it hang for 10 years is awful on the US gov’t part). I feel bad for this kid, but I have to say that his parents are just as blameworth as our government. Wouldn’t the kid remain a US citizen, even living in India? Wouldn’t he still be eligible for all the same educational opportunities as other American citizens? In fact, assuming he had the right grades and SAT score, wouldn’t an application essay regarding his experience of being forcibly taken back to a “homeland” he’d never seen raise a lot more Harvard admissions committee eyebrows than “guys, I won the spelling bee”? I just think that the incredible emotional pain he must be going through is really not worth whatever he gains by staying. His parents had a role in choosing to split up the family, and they easily could have taken him home.

    I don’t want to beat this into the ground or anything, but the whole “root for the Desi spelling bee champ” trend annoys me too. I know that some people think that the spelling bee represents some huge leap in Desi English-language skills, but I don’t see it. It’s just rote memorization, and displays none of the creative spark necessary to succeed in language-based disciplines (this doesn’t mean that spelling bee winners wouldn’t do well in these disciplines, it’s just that these are two separate skill sets). Spelling bees are just exercises in cramming as much unrelated, undefined, useless information into your brain as possible. And they test a skill that is increasingly useless in our society thanks to Microsoft Word and online dictionaries. This kind of learning might help you succeed in certain kinds of academic fields, but it’s AWFUL training for the complex problem solving required in the real world. From that perspective, a science-based club probably would be far more useful, since it at least teaches creative thinking and planning skills. But show me a Desi who won a literary contest or got a short story published and I would be even more impressed, since that would take true language skills, as well as a huge degree of self-confidence.

  16. are you seriously arguing that illegal immigration is the only way in to this country?

    I am not arguing. I am just stating facts. If a person is of Indian ancestory wishes to immigrate to the US, he/she has to be either born with the right to immigrate to this nation (as in familial sponsorship) or has to prove as a student visa applicant that he/she will NOT seek immigration. There is NO argument about these facts. They are just facts of US Immigration policy.

    That every first genner here is either “illegal” or, at the very least, abused the system?

    Not quite!!! In the 60s and 70s student visa seekers did not have to convince a consulate member that he/she will not seek immigration, but that was not the case in the 90′s and at present. In the 60s my Dad had an option to immigrate to the US and he seriously considered it, as US govt. did allow Indian citizens with Engineering degrees to immigrate.

    None of the above applies to Europeans.

    I just want to point the race based system that US Immigration is, to point out that people dont really want to break the law.

  17. Sorry, RC, but your knowledge of U.S. immigration law is as far from accurate as you can get in this case.

    First, student visas, commonly known as F-1 visas (or F-4 for accompanying family members) are non-immigrant visas, meaning that you cannot immigrate to the U.S. using this visa. Getting an F-1 does not allow you to apply for permanent residence. (You may find a job and change your F to an H-1 and then have your employer apply with you for permanent residence, but that’s another story).

    Second, if a person wishes to immigrate to the U.S., and has a valid, approved immigrant petition to do so, there is no need to prove that you will return to India. That is the point, and the main difference, from non-immigrant visas. Also, while there is a legal right to immigrant in these petition-based cases, it’s important to remember that this is based in immigration law that can be changed by an act of Congress. It is not a right under the U.S. Constitution, nor a God-given right.

    Third, the rules regarding students applies to Europeans as well. A student from Portugal, for instance has to meet the same legal requirements as a student from India.

    There are so many myths about immigration and the immigration process out there, many of which are fostered by touts willing to abuse the unsuspecting applicants and to sell them bad information. Please don’t add to that mix.

  18. fsowalla, I have gone thru’ F1, H1 to Green card to citizenship (not approved yet) process. Please dont tell me what F1 stands for.

    Second, if a person wishes to immigrate to the U.S., and has a valid, approved immigrant petition to do so

    On what basis???

    A EU citizen does not even need a visitor’s visa to visit the US. EU student needs a student visa to study in the US, but EU student is not the same in the eyes of the US Immigration as a Indian/Pakistani student.

  19. The discussion started with the family and now its immigration being discussed. I think some people are similar to sah’s. Atleast from Sah’s case it’s clear that they would like to come back but not sure what others here are trying to accomplish. As for Kunal, he is a US citizen may be better than couple of immigrants who still have jealous mentality.

  20. Okay, all of you guys who wrote negative comments are all wrong. IT WAS MY DAMN CHOICE TO STAY BACK IN AMERICA!! And whoever wrote stupid comments about my mother and father, should take them back. They came legally here, and they applied for asylum BEFORE his visa expired. So, if they did that, and it still got denied, then there’s no fault in them. So, you guys that wrote negative comments should pack your bullshit and find some other thing to do than vandalize websites with wrong information.

  21. There are a lot of comments here, but I saw an article in the NY Times about this today:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/06/us/06speller.html?hp

    Interesting excerpts:

    Mr. Sah, who was born in India, came to the United States in 1990 and shortly before his entry visa expired the next year he applied for political asylum, saying that if he was forced to return to his home province in southeastern India he would be targeted by Muslims because of his involvement in a group called Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which he described as committed to Hindu nationalism. Mr. Sah acknowledged in his application that he had been active in organizing a campaign against Babri Mosque, in northern India, because it was “built on our sacred land” and that he “actively participated” in riots intended to demolish it. In 1992, after Mr. Sah had immigrated to the United States, Hindu extremists destroyed the mosque. In denying him haven, immigration officials noted that Mr. Sah “had participated in the persecution of non-Hindus and thus was ineligible for asylum.”

    If this is the case, I have to say that this seems much more than an asylum case gone awry, and I don’t have much sympathy for the parents, although the kid is in a bad situation now.