Over 100 Cambodian American Refugees Face Deportation after Targeted ICE Round-Up

Protesters demand immigrant rights for Southeast Asian Americans at a 2013 demonstration. (Photo credit: 1Love Movement)

The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) reports that over one hundred Cambodian American refugees have been arrested and detained for deportation after one of the largest Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) mass round-up operations in history.

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.

Said Kalvin Hang of the advocacy group 1Love Cambodia:

“The purpose of bilateral negotiations would be to rectify humanitarian concerns with the current [agreement], and make necessary revisions to bring it in line with international human rights standards.”

Cambodian American refugees cannot be deported without the issuance of Cambodian travel documents.

Last month, the Trump Administration reacted to the Cambodian government’s refusal to issue travel visas for refugee deportees with a bullying set of visa sanctions. Specifically, the Administration announced that Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs employees — as well as nationals from Sierra Leone, Eritrea, and Guinea — would no longer be able to obtain travel visas to enter the United States. The Cambodian government reacted to the visa sanctions by agreeing to interview and issue travel documents for twenty-six nationals facing deportation.

Now, as part of the Trump administration’s pattern of holding refugees’ and immigrants’ lives hostage in service of Trump’s xenophobic and anti-immigrant policies, ICE has rounded up over one hundred additional Cambodian American refugees and placed them in detainment at the Adelanto Detention Facility near Los Angeles. In what appears to be an international game of chicken, ICE seems to be hoping that the Cambodian government will continue to accept these refugees for deportation now that they have relented on the earlier twenty-six deportees.

SEARAC reports that most of the Cambodian Americans rounded up this past week came to the United States as refugee children, and some might even have been born in refugee camps outside of Cambodia and therefore have no personal connection to Cambodia. After coming to the United States, most had run-ins with the criminal justice system before they were naturalized. Furthermore, while all have past criminal records, most are now living peaceful and non-violent lives after deciding to reform their behaviour while in prison.

If deported, many refugees will be permanently separated from American family members, and sent to away to live in a country they barely know. Salon reported over the summer what life is like for refugees sent to Cambodia, including the story of Sophea Phea, who was born in Thailand and raised in the U.S. but deported after she was convicted of $3,000 of credit card fraud.

“We’re separated from families; this is against human rights. We went to the [U.S.] as little toddlers, we’d never been to Cambodia, we don’t belong here in a way,” Phea explains. “We are replicating what our parents felt when they were separated from their families by the Khmer Rouge. And we don’t know how our kids are going to turn out because this trauma is repeating itself.”

SEARAC and other organizations are trying to stop other Cambodian American refugees — most of whom pose no criminal threat to anyone — from facing similar, senseless trauma.

“This is one of the largest round-ups the Southeast Asian American community has seen,” said Quyen Dinh, executive director of SEARAC. “We call on both the U.S. and Cambodian governments to do the right thing by stopping the deportation of refugees. Our families have suffered enough for one lifetime. Enough is enough.”

Community members are urged to join SEARAC’s efforts to stop the deportation of these Cambodian American refugees and other immigrants inhumanely targeted by the US government.

Here’s a few actions you can take:

  1. Add your name to the following sign on letter in support of Cambodian Americans and their families currently facing deportation.
  2. If you or someone you know is directly impacted by the current mass round-up, please fill out the following advocacy intake form to be directed to important resources.
  3. Donate to support the work of SEARAC and other advocacy groups.
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