Ny Nourn was born into war and violence.
Nourn’s mother fled genocide in Cambodia to a refugee camp in Thailand where she gave birth to Nourn. Nourn was just 5 years old when her mother immigrated with her to the United States and married Nourn’s stepfather, whose abusive behaviour against both mother and child motivated Nourn’s mother to enact her own verbal abuse against Nourn, as well.
Nourn grew up knowing no other kind of relationship but abuse, pain, and violence.
Nourn was just 17 years old when she met 34-year-old Ron Barker, the man who would be her boyfriend, and eventually her abuser and rapist. She was just 18 years old when Barker, jealous of her affair with another man, coerced her with physical assault, rape, and death threats to lure her lover into a trap and to stay silent after he shot and killed the other man, and burned the body so badly that dental records would be needed to identify the victim.
Nourn was just 21 years old when she chose to break her silence and tell police of the crime. She was arrested on the spot and charged with murder.
Nourn was still just 21 years old when a jury sentenced her — a survivor of domestic violence and rape — to a 15-years-to-life prison sentence for second degree murder in failing to prevent her abuser from shooting and killing another man. Nourn served 16 years in prison before receiving parole.
But her freedom was short-lived. Immediately upon her release from Central California Women’s Facility earlier this year, she was taken into custody by US Immigration and imprisoned in the Yuba County Jail, an ICE detention facility built to hold immigrants facing deportation.
Now, Nourn faces deportation to Cambodia, a country she does not know. She is 36 years old.
It’s hard to learn about Ny Nourn’s story and to not wonder how prosecutors and jurors couldn’t see how she was a victim of her abuser and rapist — a man who routinely employed physical violence, rape, and death threats to keep her under his control. During Nourn’s appeal of her first trial, four experts testified that Nourn exhibited classic signs of Battered Women’s Syndrome, a mental illness where the victim of domestic abuse is so fearful of her abuser and internalizes so much of her abuser’s psychological assaults that she is incapable of standing up to the abuse or to leave the abusive relationship.
In Nourn’s case, Barker used rape, death threats, and other forms of physical violence to coerce Nourn to go along with his murder plans and to remain silent afterwards. Barker also continued to attempt to exert abusive control over Nourn even after his arrest. While facing murder charges in the crime, Barker threatened Nourn’s first defense attorney, and also tried to have Nourn’s family kidnapped to force her silence. After conviction, Barker continued to threaten Nourn, saying that if she is deported, he would have family members in Asia find her and kill her.
Despite this clear history of sexual and physical abuse, the US criminal justice and US immigration systems seek to exert punitive deportation against Nourn. This is commonly how the system treats many other immigrant women survivors of domestic violence. (Readers of this blog might remember the story of Nan-Hui Jo, a Korean American survivor of domestic violence who faced deportation for escaping her abuser with her child.) Indeed, rather than provide adequate mental and social services for those escaping domestic and sexual violence, America instead routinely criminalizes and warehouses survivors in its prisons; for non-citizens, this often marks their entry into a prison-to-deportation pipeline. The ACLU estimates that nearly 60% of incarcerated women are survivors of domestic abuse, and those numbers may be just as high — or higher — for women detained in ICE detention centers and facing deportation. Even undocumented women with no criminal convictions are reluctant to report domestic abuse for fear that they will attract attention from ICE and be deported.
Immigrants from Asian countries make up a sizable portion of the nation’s immigrant population, and are the fastest growing group of undocumented immigrants. Groups estimate that 1 in 4 women will be a victim of domestic violence at some point in their lifetime, and immigration status makes women particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. While estimates of domestic violence incidence in the Asian American community are hard to come by, some micro-studies estimate that as many as 40-60% of Asian American women may be victims or survivors of domestic violence. The trend with regard to sexual assault in the Asian American community are similarly grim.
While US Immigration offers the possibility of amnesty for immigrant women survivors of domestic violence, those opportunities are completely shut-off to immigrant women (either documented or undocumented) who have been convicted of a crime, such as Ny Nourn or Nan-Hui Jo. Indeed, decades of legislation have expanded the list of crimes that are viewed as deportable offenses for non-citizens: in recent national ICE raids, immigrants targeted and arrested for deportation had either only traffic offenses on their record, or no criminal conviction whatsoever.
As a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault, Nourn is a baffling candidate for deportation. Furthermore, in the 16 years since her arrest, Nourn has become a powerful advocate against domestic violence, and has also become a certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor. She hopes to use that training to continue to work with other survivors of domestic and sexual assault. Given that, what purpose does her deportation serve other than to harass and criminalize her and other victims of abuse? Deporting Nourn will do nothing but unnecessarily devastate Nourn and her future, and drive other immigrant women survivors of violence further into the shadows.
Currently, Nourn has been granted protection from deportation by a judge, but ICE plans to appeal that decision in November so that they can pursue deportation against her. If an appeals court rules against Nourn, she will be sent to Cambodia, where she will be completely disconnected from her family and the only country she has ever known. Her life may also be in danger if Barker follows through on his death threats against her.
Activists are seeking the community’s help to demand that ICE halt any further attempts to deport Ny Nourn. They are asking that the community:
- Sign this petition demanding that Ny Nourn be freed from the ICE detention facility where she is currently imprisoned, and that all deportation efforts against her be halted.
- Donate to help offset the cost of Ny Nourn’s bond and legal fees.
- Send a note of support to Ny Nourn while she is imprisoned at an ICE detention facility.
(H/T for story pitch: D.L.)