Mandeep Chahal says it's been a "crazy, roller-coaster week" since she met with one of her mentors for what looked like their last meeting before she was deported.
"One day I'm preparing myself to board a plane to India," the 20-year-old student said. "Now, I'm preparing to board a plane—to D.C."
It is, indeed, a big turn of events. She has gone from surrendering to the immigration service with her mother last Tuesday, to being granted a stay 90 minutes later, to being invited to speak Wednesday to youths rallying in support of the re-introduction of the Dream Act in Washington, D.C.
The United We Dream Network, an immigrant youth-led group, invited her and her best friend, Julia Dupperault to tell what it took to avert her deportation. The Dream Act is a narrow legislation, aimed at providing a path to citizenship for youths who were brought as minors to America by a parent, and had no control over entering the country.
That's the case of Chahal, and thousands of young people who grew up often not even knowing they weren't Americans.
The honors pre-med student attracted international attention when she and her mother won their eleventh-hour reprieve from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement on June 21. On Friday, ICE granted her a one-year stay while her lawyer, Kalpana Peddibhotla, works on her case.
Peddibhotla and observers credit the furious, 36-hour mobilization of friends, supporters, and friends of friends of friends via Facebook, all who contacted the California congressional delegation and faxed the ICE. That, combined with specific guidelines issued by ICE head John Morton, Peddibhotla said, made authorities take a second look at a deportation stay.
The Chahal's case began in 1997, when she and her mother, Jagdish Kaur, arrived in Mountain View. Chahal was six. Her mother applied for political asylum, but there was a six-year backlog. When their case finally came up in 2003, they did not receive a fair hearing, said Peddibhotla, the pair's second lawyer who filed a motion to re-open her asylum petition in 2010, on grounds of their representation. The family includes her father, who is not included in these proceedings, and her two younger brothers, who were born here.
"I didn't know I was undocumented until I was 15," Chahal said. "I knew I was a little different—that I didn't have papers."
That knowledge, in a small community like the and Los Altos High School where she went to school, set her invisibly apart, she said.
"I grew up with the same kids since I got here," she said. "Being undocumented made me feel like I had a big secret I couldn't tell them."
But she had good friends, some who lived in Los Altos Hills and some who lived near San Antonio Shopping Center like herself. There is a wide range of socio-economic groups in the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District."But personally it's never been a huge deal that I'm one of the kids living across El Camino Real, or my friend is from across the Foothill Expressway."
Eventually, she told Dupperault and another close friend in high school, then a couple more. It was a big relief that she could trust them, she said.
It was Dupperault's father who introduced them to Peddibhotla. And it was Dupperault who was Chahal's most outspoken supporter as advisors concluded late June 16, after an attempt to get the deportation stayed, that they needed to do something public.
For Chahal, there was no question about how to start: Facebook.
"It's the best way for publicizing something for people my age," Chahal said.
Voted "Most Likely to Save the World," by the Class of 2009 at Los Altos High, Chahal had routinely used Facebook as leader of her groups, Amnesty International and One Dollar For Life, and then at UC Davis, she said.
"For doing something quick and big, it was always through Facebook, because we're always on it."
But how fast people responded from Sunday to Tuesday and how "crazy big" it got —nearly 1,800 members, and an estimated 5,000 people acting—surprised even Chahal.
"It wasn't just clicking, it was taking action," said Peddibhotla, who is not much of a social media user. "They were phoning people, faxing. There were 5,000 people sending out faxes."
The result, both ICE and the congressional offices knew it was serious, Peddibhotla said. U.S. Rep Anna Eshoo's office wrote a letter to ICE.
A temporary reprieve is not a solution. But it looks a lot better for Chahal than it did last Monday night.
By the time Chahal and Dupperault had dinner with her mentor, history teacher Robert Freeman, on Monday, they had done everything they could.
Their conversation at Maltby's, the casual family restaurant in downtown Los Altos, was calm, resigned ... and a little surreal the eve of her surrender, Freeman said.
How are you feeling, he wanted to know? He choked up a little recalling the conversation. What doyou pack when you're going to be deported?
"I said I just was bringing the clothes I was wearing and my laptop and my iPhone," Chahal said. "That's all I need."
That's all a college student usually needs. And a whole lot of Facebook friends.