A Saugerties business owner is facing deportation and separation from his wife and infant son after new hard-line immigration policies and a torturously slow bureaucracy left him in legal limbo.
Bhavesh “Bobby” Bhatt, 43 and his wife Jeanne Edwards, 28 own the Glasco Deli near Mount Marion Elementary School. They own a home in town and in October welcomed a new baby boy to the family. Bhatt is a familiar face to Saugerties residents having spent years working in local delis and gas stations before saving enough to buy his own business.
“Everyone knows my husband,” said Edwards. “Little old ladies come off the mountain to ask if he can shovel their driveway — because he will. Kids stop in and say ‘Hey Bobby my car’s making this funny sound, can you take a look at it?”
But the couple’s small-town life was upended on January 31 when Bhatt was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents while attending a routine interview at the agency’s New York City offices. Now, Edwards said, they are in a race against time between Bhatt’s pending deportation back to his native India and approval of a marriage document that will likely allow him to remain in the country and with his family.
Bhatt has been in the country since 2001 when he illegally crossed the Mexican border. In 2004 he was caught and slapped with a removal order. Since that time he has been allowed to remain in the United States based on a policy of “prosecutorial discretion” which gave immigration authorities wide latitude when it came to deportation. Steadily employed and with no criminal history, Bhatt made regular visits to New York immigration offices where officials would routinely stay the deportation order and allow him to remain, albeit with no path to legal status.
In 2012 Bhatt and Edwards were introduced through mutual friends. In April 2016 they married. The same year they purchased a home and bought the business. Thirteen months later, Edwards said, they began the process of obtaining legal status for Bhatt by filing an “I-130” form attesting to the validity of the marriage. The application, which asks for extensive financial and other information, is used by immigration authorities to determine if a union is legitimate for the purposes of determining legal status. According to Bhatt’s Attorney, Marilyn Labrada-Dume, with the I-130 in place, Bhatt could have the removal order lifted and, eventually apply for a permanent residency.
“This should be approved,” said Labrada-Dume. “They have a house together, they have a baby together, there’s no question that it’s a bona-fide marriage.”
But, nine months after filing the application, the couple still hasn’t received word on a decision by immigration officials. Bhatt, meanwhile, was taken into custody on January 31 when he showed up for his regularly scheduled interview with immigration enforcement bearing his son’s birth certificate. Since then, he has been held in a New Jersey detention center. Labrada-Dume said that his arrest and efforts to have him deported reflected new hard-line immigration policies enacted under Donald J. Trump’s administration. The new administrative rules give immigration authorities little discretion when it comes to enforcement of existing removal orders. The rules apply even in cases like Bhatt’s where there is no allegation of criminal activity or other wrongdoing.
“Under the previous administration they were deporting people left and right, but usually because of a criminal conviction,” said Labrada-Dume. “They weren’t dividing families like this.”
No valid Indian passport
LaBrada-Dume said that an immigration court had recently turned down her request to put removal proceedings on hold pending a decision on the I-130 application. Now, she says, Bhatt could be deported at any time. If he is, he’ll face another quandary — he does not have and Indian passport and Indian authorities do not recognize him as a citizen. If he arrives without a valid passport, he is liable to be detained by Indian authorities. “Basically, he could end up going from a jail in New Jersey to a jail in Mumbai,” said Edwards.
While Bhatt awaits his fate in the detention center, Edwards has taken a leave from her job as an educator for a local nonprofit in order to keep the business going. Meanwhile, Edwards said, their baby is being monitored for possible hydrocephaly, a condition where fluid builds up in the brain. She’s making regular trips to Albany for the child’s medical appointments and facing the prospect of brain surgery depending on how things progress. Edwards said the agonizing wait was made worse knowing that a single document, currently making its way through the immigration bureaucracy was all that was needed to bring her husband home and keep her family together.
“It feels so personal,” said Edwards. “It feels like they’re doing it just because we were so close to getting him legal status.”