Thousands of supporters have rallied around a 75-year-old widow in the West Midlands who could face deportation to a country where she has no family or connections.
The case of Gurmit Kaur Sahota struck a chord after she was seen giving out fruit to Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters in Smethwick during a demonstration in July.
Her campaign has in turn been picked up by BLM supporters on social media. An online petition has gained 55,000 signatures in six days and there has been widespread support on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook.
Charity Migrant Voice has also launched a campaign urging the Home Office to grant Kaur leave to remain in the UK.
The Home Office has said she could be forcibly removed from the UK and sent to India.
Since Kaur arrived in the West Midlands in 2009, the local Sikh community has adopted her as their own and she regularly volunteers at the local temple Gurdwara Baba Sang Ji.
Speaking through a translator, Kaur told HuffPost UK: “I’m from a village called Nangal Majja near Phagwara in Punjab, India. But after my husband passed away in 1996 I had no family left in India.
“So I was invited by my family to come to the UK to attend a wedding. I was living on my deceased husband’s savings, which have now run out.”
Kaur arrived in the UK on July 15, 2009, with a multi visit visa that was valid until June 2010. She then applied for settled status – indefinite leave to remain – but this was refused in June 2010.
Kaur has two brothers and grown-up children in the UK.
“I’m getting older, my community want to help me stay here and support me, this is why they are rallying behind me and I’m deeply touched by this campaign,” she said.
Prior to the fresh threat to deport her, she had heard nothing from the Home Office since 2013.
A spokesperson from the Home Office told HuffPost UK: “We have recently written to Ms Sahota explaining how she can apply to remain in the country legally and we urge her to do so.”
The Home Office insists it is “wrong to claim we have been pursuing her deportation” – but Kaur’s case worker, Salman Mirza, said the government’s approach had been “threatening’”.
In a letter seen by HuffPost UK, Capita Business Services – a private firm contracted to carry out casework on behalf of the UK Border Agency – wrote: “If you fail to respond we will have to refer your case to the UK Border Agency to consider taking further action to secure your removal from the United Kingdom.”
One local supporter, Xi’an Loves, told HuffPost UK there was a need to recognise the “covert and often swept under the carpet” racism in the UK.
Loves said: “I’m of Jamaican and Panjabi Sikh heritage, so when I look at Gurmit, I view her as a family member.
“Although Gurmit is not directly from the Windrush generation, it is evident the impact it has had on people.
“People who are campaigning to stay in the UK after living here for many years go through this stress to then be told to go back to a place where they have nobody.”
Mirza, who is part of Migrant Voices and is representing Kaur legally, told HuffPost UK the case “puts a human face to the whole immigration debate”.
“There has been a strong youth presence in the campaign within Sandwell and Smethwick,” he said, resulting in an “unprecedented” amount of support.
Community project Brushstrokes, the local Sikh temple and a number of local leaders have also given the campaign their support. Local Labour MP John Spellar has vowed to raise her case with the Home Office.
Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voice, said: “We’re standing with Gurmit Kaur because, like so many undocumented migrants in the UK, this country is her home and she’s a deeply valued member of her community.
“We urge the Home Office to regularise her status, and that of all undocumented migrants in the UK, so she and thousands like her can live without fear of being detained and deported, and protect themselves and their families, especially during this pandemic.”
It is unclear how the government plans to tackle the hostile environment policy after pledging a more “people first” approach to immigration.
On Friday, after a campaign, the Home Office is set to suspend a “visa streaming” algorithm with “institutionally racist practices” and review the “issues around unconscious bias and the use of nationality” in their automated visa applications.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.