WASHINGTON - The parents of a six-year-old Indian girl who died after crossing from Mexico into the Arizona desert this month say they made a "desperate" choice for their family in a bid for asylum.
"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," Ms. Kaur, 27, and Mr. Singh, 33, said in a joint statement released Monday through the U.S.-based Sikh Coalition.
It was the family's first public statement since Gurupreet Kaur's body was found in the desert on June 13.
"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," her parents said.
The statement did not give the parents' first names.
Gurupreet traveled in a group of five with her mother, two other adult women and another child.
Two of the women — including Gurupreet's mother — split from the group in search of water. That's when they came into contact with border agents.
When they told the agents they were traveling with three others, the official search began for the remaining members of the group.
U.S. Border Patrol agents found the child's body west of Lukeville, Arizona. Temperatures reached a high of 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit) on the day she died. The local medical examiner said heatstroke killed her, days before her seventh birthday.
The agents later found the missing mother and her 8-year-old daughter. They were transported to a local hospital and treated for dehydration, according to the agency.
The group is part of a small, but growing number of Indians attempting to cross from Mexico into the United States.
During a period when border apprehensions dropped by more than half, from 858,638 in fiscal year 2007 to 396,579 in fiscal year 2018, the number of Indian nationals increased from under 200 to nearly 10,000.
The girl's father has been living in the United States since 2013, according to CNN. He had applied for asylum, said Mark Reading-Smith, Sikh Coalition program director.
As the number of Indians apprehended increased dramatically in the last decade, the asylum claims granted also increased, though at a much slower pace.
Gurupreet's parent's are Sikhs, and U.S. organizations focused on the Sikh community have rallied around them, issuing updates and statements through the press and social media.
"We have been trying to figure this out," Gujari Singh, communications director for the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, told CNN. "Each case has been slightly different. There doesn't seem to be one exact cause. ... There is definitely some sort of movement, but we're not really sure why."