Gurmukh Singh
Taxi driver Gurmukh Singh before he is taken into custody after an ICE hearing in Santa Ana on Monday morning, May, 8, 2017.

LOS ANGELES (Diya TV) — Gurmukh Singh, a southern California resident and family man with no sort of criminal record, entered a federal building with his wife, two daughters and a pro bono attorney Monday morning to check in with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as required for individuals with final deportation orders who have been released under supervision.

He did not come back out.

An asylum seeker, before the 46-year-old entered the building, he told local media that he was “very nervous.”

The taxi driver had been taken into ICE custody once before, in 2013, when he interviewed for legal permanent resident status unaware of his outstanding deportation order. Immigrants rights groups and politicians successfully advocated for his release, but two weeks ago, a judge dismissed Singh’s appeal to reopen his asylum case.

“I would be broke, the family separated and we’re not supposed to be separated,” Singh said of possible detention and deportation. “I would be depressed. What would happen to their future, my future?”

These were his final words available for reporting.

“The look on his face told me there was nothing that could be done,” said Singh’s oldest daughter, Manpreet Saini, 18, who hugged him before ICE officials took him away. “He breaks down. He’s crying. I’ve never seen him cry like that.”

It’s unclear where Singh will be detained, as well as any timeline for the ICE actions against him. Various groups and local elected officials have vowed to ramp up efforts to demand Singh’s release. ICE has discretion to grant a stay of removal, and immigration officials often did so under the Obama administration, which ordered that non-criminal detainees were not the priority for deportation proceedings.

Monica Glicken, Singh’s volunteer attorney through Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Orange County, said “that conversation did not go anywhere” on Monday.

“They didn’t even take us into an office. Two ICE agents on each side allowed him a moment and took him away,” Glicken said. “The (ICE) supervisor said under the Trump administration’s policy, they feel constrained not to exercise discretion.”

President Donald Trump’s administration has directed Department of Homeland Security personnel to prioritize enforcement efforts on those who been convicted of a criminal offense, charged with a criminal offense that has not been resolved, or are subject to a final order of removal but have not complied with their legal obligation to leave the country.

“While criminal aliens and those who pose a threat to public safety will continue to be a focus, DHS will NOT exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said Monday in an email. “All those in violation of our nation’s immigration laws may be subject to arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”

Singh, who has lived in Garden Grove, Calif. for 13 years, immigrated to the U.S. in 1998 without inspection – escaping religious persecution in India – and applied for asylum the following year. His previous counsel did not notify him in advance of his court date in 1999 and did not prepare him, so Singh appeared at the hearing without supporting evidence or testimony, according to Glicken. His previous attorney also failed to inform Singh that the judge issued a deportation order.

Singh tried to reopen his asylum case in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing ineffective assistance from his previous counsel, but a judge dismissed his appeal on April 25.

ICE’s decision to take Singh into custody Monday was based on a deportation order handed down by an immigration judge with the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review in 1999.

“Over the last 18 years, Department of Homeland Security databases indicate Mr. Singh’s case has undergone exhaustive review at all levels of our nation’s legal system, including scrutiny by local immigration judges with EOIR, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals,” Kice wrote. “After examining the facts of Mr. Singh’s case, the courts have all upheld his original removal order.”

Information from the OC Register contributed to this report.