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.
We often talk about the course of history as if it is distantly in our past. This might lead us to overlook the direct implications that historic decisions and events have had on our present. I think of this not only in the greater sense of global geopolitics or major social movements, but at the level of the individual.
I recently uncovered a letter that my dad had filed away. It was addressed to my grandfather from the Commander of United States Army Communications Command in Taiwan, and it was written shortly after the termination of the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty, which had ensured American defense of Taiwan in case of invasion. My grandfather had worked for the U.S. Army as an electronic technician until U.S. forces began to pull away from the Taiwan Strait in 1979.
I’d long known that my grandfather had worked for the U.S. Army in some way, and that it was through this work that he was able to come to the United States; but holding this small slice of history in my hands, dated April 11, 1979, put it all in perspective. The yellowing paper—marked with the slashes of my own father’s handwriting—was an artifact from my family’s immigration story: In 1981, my father and grandparents immigrated to America.
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.
Last week, I wrote about the story of acute myeloid leukemia patient Helen Huynh whose sister — a rare perfect stem cell match for Huynh — was repeatedly denied a temporary travel visa by US Department of Citizenship and Immigraion Services (USCIS) to visit the United States from her home in Vietnam so that she could donate her stem cells to save her sister’s life. The Asian American community has been outraged by USCIS’ inexplicable decision to deny Thuy Nguyen permission to travel to the United States, and as the family struggled to apply for emergency humanitarian parole for Nguyen — a move described by the family’s lawyers as a “hail mary” pass — Huynh’s life hung in the balance.
In an effort to help Huynh, Advancing Justice – Los Angeles and Advancing Justice – Orange County launched a sign-on letter and petition that garnered support from 1,100 community members and over 90 organizations, demanding that USCIS intervene to save Helen Huynh’s life. In addition, the Huynh family reached out to numerous elected officials including Senator Kamala Harris, Congressman J. Luis Correa, and Congressman Alan Lowenthal.
Now, Advancing Justice-LA has announced that these and other community efforts appear to have worked: USCIS has decided to grant humanitarian parole to allow Thuy Nguyen to travel to the United States and donate her stem cells to her sister.
Earlier this year, I reported on the hate crime murder of 32-year-old Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an engineer shot and killed at a bar in Olathe, Kansas by a man who yelled “Get out of my country!” moments before pulling the trigger. The shooting left Kuchibhotla dead and his co-worker — with whom he was enjoying happy hour drinks — critically injured; a third bystander who attempted to stop the crime, was also hurt.
Afterwards, the killer — 51-year-old Adam Purinton — fled the scene of the crime and was later apprehended nearly 70 miles south at an Applebee’s, where Purinton had boasted of killing two Iranians. After he was arrested, Purinton faced federal hate crime charges; he currently awaits trial on those charges.
Heartbreakingly, Purinton didn’t just take the life of Srinivas Kuchibhotla that night in February; the shooting also placed Kuchibhotla’s widow — Sunayana Dumala — at risk of deportation. Dumala, who was born in India, worked as a developer for InTouch Solutions; however, her residency status was linked to her husband’s H-1B visa. When Kuchibhotla was murdered in February, Dumala’s residency permit was terminated and she became at risk of deportation.