The United States (US) immigration system is harsh on the scores of people that come to the country with dreams and ambitions for a better life. As long as they contribute to it, the country permits them refuge. The moment they stop doing so, or their avenue to contribute is snatched away for no fault of their own, so is the right to live in the country – even though that may be the only life that some immigrants know.
An extreme case triggered by the evils of the system has been unfolding in Conway, Arkansas, where an Indian American family is frantically searching for their 14-year-old daughter, who ran away from home allegedly due to the fear of being deported from the US.
Tanvi Marupally ran away from her school, the Conway Junior High School, on 17 January, and has not yet been found.
Where was she seen last? Media reports stated that security footage showed the teen walking past the bus stop near her school. She was last seen wearing a purple coat, a pink pullover, and blue jeans.
Tanvi's parents, Pavan Roy Marupally and Sridevi Eadara, told ABC News that when they found that their daughter wasn't on the school bus when it stopped by their house, they alerted the police in the evening. In the days that followed, they handed out hundreds of flyers, and several volunteers pitched in to find the girl, apart from the police.
Her parents also said that on the day she ran away, she did not wear her smartwatch to school as she usually used to, nor did she have a mobile phone on her. Hence, her location could not be tracked – indicating that Tanvi had pre-planned her escape.
Why Did Tanvi Run Away?
Tanvi's father, Pavan, said that he believes his daughter ran away because of the family's uncertain immigration status.
Pavan, who works for a tech firm in the US, faces the possibility of being laid off amid the industry-wide job cuts. If that happens, he will lose his work visa and the family will be forced to leave the country soon.
Pavan told THV11 that the same thing had happened to his wife. After losing her job, she had to return to India alone and reapply for another job as his dependent. "It took a year before she could return to be with her family," he said.
Even though they have legally lived in the US for several years, and have painstakingly tried to receive citizenship during that time, the country's complex immigration system has left them in dire straits.
When Tanvi asked her father what they would do if he lost his job, Pavan asked her not to panic.
"I said...let you and your mom first go back to India, let me figure out what and how the system works out, get a proper job, and then call you back," he told ABC News. In response, Tanvi said, "What, go back to India? Why should I go back to India? I've been here."
Her parents believe that the idea of her being ripped apart from her home was too much for her to handle, and so she decided to run away.
The Search for Tanvi
Tanvi would often visit a chapel near her home and surrounding grounds when she felt low, her parents said.
Pavan would even try to distract her about her worries regarding leaving the US by taking her to different state and national parks. Her favourite one was Petit Jean State Park, and she felt a special connection with it. Hence, her parents believed that she may have gone there.
They searched for their daughter in all the parks they used to frequent, but to no avail. Pavan said that they must have gone to around 45 Arkansas state parks so far.
"She's the motivation for both of us to come here (to the US). If she wasn't there, we would have no purpose to come here. Everyday we are walking on the edge, trying to keep her safe, provide a better life," Tanvi's mother Sridevi said.
When she went missing, her father initially thought that she just wanted space for one night, and would come back after that. However, that bubble of comfort soon burst.
"As long as she came back the next day, or two days, or three days later, (it would've been fine). But as days started passing by, it started making me more and more nervous," he said.
That's the most puzzling question for Pawan. "How can a 14-year-old can just go to school, walk away from the bus stop and just vanish into thin air?"
What did the police say? Meanwhile, the police said that their officers had scoured the city looking for her, and continue to do so. They also said that they had spoken to Tanvi's friends and teachers to obtain possible leads in the investigation.
"Any time a child leaves, it's a big deal. We're continuing to remain positive," Conway Police spokesperson Lacey Kanipe asserted.
The police has also been publicising news of her disappearance by putting up banners and posters. They have also posted about her disappearance on different social media platforms, and urged the public to immediately call 911 if they spot her.
(With inputs from ABC and THV11.)