The cries of children echo in my head after listening to the ProPublica recording of children crying at a detention center. It reminds me of my own experiences as a young child.
I was adopted at the age of three from South Korea. My biological family left me at an orphanage when I was a few days old and I lived at an orphanage for almost a year before going to a foster home.
I spent almost a year with my foster family and had grown attached to my foster mother. It was extremely traumatic for me to leave my foster family. At the time, I was too young to know what was going on. All I knew was that my foster mother was not near me and that I was in a strange environment.
I remember spending many nights literally crying in terror and my adoptive mother trying to sooth me. This happened for several years after my adoption.
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.
Earlier this year, Jo was retried on charges that she kidnapped her daughter — her first trial ended in a hung jury. Jo’s abuser, who is her daughter’s father, claims that Jo’s escape to Korea violated his parental access. Yet, at the time of Jo’s departure, she was facing loss of legal immigration status and was facing deportation. Jo’s abuser, Jesse Charlton — an Iraq war veteran — confessed that at the time he was unemployed, emotionally unstable due to largely untreated PTSD and substance abuse, and was not prepared to assume full-time custody of their daughter. Facing the possibility that she would become an undocumented immigrant (and therefore unable to obtain work) and fearing for her and her daughter’s safety if they remained within Charlton’s influence, Nan-Hui Jo did what conservatives dream of: she “self-deported” with her child.