“I remember it wasn’t firecrackers… it was the sound of gunfire. And I remember seeing the blood everywhere on these kids. I remember seeing my cousin… gunned down.”
“It was the first moment I was reminded of the refugee camps where I grew up,” said Peejay, looking into the audience.
“The soldiers and the bandits,” he shook his head remembering the violence in the camps, “[It was] something I left behind, something my family left behind.”
Borey Ai, also known as Peejay, has faced violence and discrimination from an early age. Fleeing war-torn Cambodia during the Vietnam War, the Ai family escaped to America as refugees. Upon their arrival in Stockton, California, however, Peejay struggled — as many Southeast Asian refugees did — in the face of racism, xenophobia, and local hate crimes. At the age of 14, Peejay was sentenced to 25 years in prison for second-degree murder. Immediately after his release, Peejay arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and deportation proceedings were started against him. Now, Peejay faces the threat of deportation to a country he doesn’t know, even as Peejay is hoping his story will bring new awareness to the school-to-prison-to-deportation pipeline. With initiatives led by Nathaniel Tan and the Asian Prisoners Support Committee, the #BringPJHome and #KeepPJHome movements were born.
After weeks and months of organizing by immigration rights groups, sexual assault victims’ rights groups, and social media users, rape and assault survivor Ny Nourn has been freed from ICE detention and is out on bail.
The arrests come shortly after the Cambodian government announced over the summer that they would temporarily halt the issuing of travel visas for refugees facing deportation by the US government to Cambodia. Cambodian officials are seeking renegotiation of a 2002 U.S.-Cambodia agreement to address the separation of deported refugees from the American families.
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.