DEPORTATION OPPOSITION. A man of Cambodian descent, who has
lived in the United States since childhood and is now facing
possible deportation, poses in Lowell, Massachusetts.
Asian-American groups are objecting to the Trump
administration’s efforts to step up deportations of Cambodians,
as dozens of refugees with criminal convictions are being
ordered to report to federal officials for removal. (AP
From The Asian Reporter, V29, #19 (October 7, 2019),
Asian-American groups oppose Cambodian refugee
By Philip Marcelo
The Associated Press
LOWELL, Mass. — Asian-American groups are objecting to the
Trump administration’s efforts to step up deportations of
Cambodians, as dozens of refugees with criminal convictions are
ordered to report to federal officials for removal.
At least 20 people in California were served notices to
report to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to
begin the deportation process, according to Ny Nourn, a San
Francisco-based community advocate with the Asian Americans
Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus. The state is home to the
largest population of Cambodians in the U.S.
In Massachusetts, the state with the nation’s second largest
Cambodian community, at least 10 residents have received them,
said Bethany Li, director of Greater Boston Legal Services’
Asian Outreach Unit.
Cambodians living in Minnesota, Texas, Rhode Island,
Washington, and Wisconsin have also been issued the orders, said
Elaine Sanchez Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Southeast Asia
Resource Action Center in Washington, D.C.
Asian-American activists planned demonstrations in San
Francisco, Sacramento, and Boston. They argue that many of those
facing deportation served criminal sentences years, and in some
cases, decades ago, when they were troubled young refugees
struggling to adjust to a new country after their families fled
Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime.
"Many of these people have served their time and rebuilt
their lives," said Kevin Lam, an organizer with the Asian
American Resource Workshop, which helped organize a protest in
Boston. "They have families, careers, and contribute to their
The deportations have been happening since about 2002, when
Cambodia agreed to begin repatriating refugees convicted of
felony crimes in the U.S.
But they’ve risen sharply since President Donald Trump took
office and imposed visa sanctions on Cambodia and a handful of
other nations in order to compel them to speed up the process.
The result has been a roughly 280% increase, from 29 removals
in federal fiscal year 2017 to 110 in federal fiscal year 2018,
according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement data.
Through the fiscal year that ended September 30, about 80
Cambodians were removed, the agency told The Associated Press.
There are nearly 1,800 Cambodians with final removal orders
living in the country. The majority have criminal convictions
but are on supervised release and not in detention, ICE said.
"ICE fully respects the constitutional rights of all people
to peacefully express their opinions," the agency said in
response to the demonstrations. "That being said, ICE remains
committed to performing its immigration enforcement mission
consistent with federal law and agency policy."
Asian-American organizations say they are focused on finding
ways to get criminal convictions reduced or dropped so Cambodian
refugees can avoid deportation.
Democratic governors in California and Washington state have
recently granted pardons to a handful of Cambodians, and at
least two Cambodians returned recently to the U.S. after
successfully challenging the criminal convictions that had
prompted their removal.
A nationwide class action lawsuit challenging immigration
raids on the Cambodian community is also pending in a California
federal court. A temporary restraining order issued earlier this
year in that case requires ICE to give written notice at least
two weeks before detaining Cambodian refugees.
Nourn says sending refugees back to Cambodia now only sets
them up for failure. Many have little connection to the country,
let alone the language and other skills needed to navigate the
Last year, 27-year-old Sophorn San, who had lived most of his
life in Rhode Island after his family fled Cambodia in the
1990s, was deported after pleading guilty to a gun charge as a
teen. He was struck and killed by a truck in the Cambodian
capital city of Phnom Penh only a few months later.
In Lowell, an old mill city in Massachusetts where about 15%
of residents are of Cambodian descent, a 40-year-old refugee
from Cambodia said he’s lived almost half his life with a
removal order hanging over him.
The man, who requested anonymity because he’s trying to
resolve his immigration status, said he came to the U.S. when he
was four years old, got involved in a street gang as a youth and
received felony convictions by the age of 18 that made him
The man said his attorney has helped him address the old
convictions, but he now has to convince immigration officials to
reconsider his deportation case. If he’s forced to go back to
Cambodia, he said he’d be leaving his family and a nearly
two-decade career serving at-risk youths to live in a country
he’s never known.
"I consider myself an American," he said. "I have kids that
are American, and a wife that is an American citizen. But just
because of the past, they can pick you up and deport you at any
moment. That’s just insane to me."