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Cambodian refugees in Northern California are facing deportation

At least four Cambodian refugees in the San Francisco Bay Area were detained on March 13 during an immigration check-in.
Image: Melanie Kim
Melanie Kim, an attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus, stands with participants at a March 13 rally in San Francisco to support Cambodian refugees who are facing deportation.Kevin Lo

Asian-American groups in the San Francisco Bay Area are trying to assist Cambodian refugees who received summons this month to show up to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, where they will most likely be detained.

According to the Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, a legal and civil rights group, at least four refugees in the Bay Area were detained on March 13 during an immigration check-in. Two of them are being represented by the caucus, which is fighting their deportation orders.

Kevin Lo, an attorney at the caucus, said it's hard to say for certain whether the detainees will be deported, but his group remains optimistic. For his client, Hay Hov, 39, who was convicted of solicitation to commit murder when he was 19, Lo said the conviction is “clearly not deportable.”

Hov, according to The San Francisco Chronicle, served a five-year sentence after his conviction. "I did my time," Hov told the Chronicle. "It's a choice I made when I was young, and now I'm paying for it. But it shouldn't be like this."

In February, a client that Lo and his colleague Melanie Kim co-represented became the second Cambodian deportee to return to the United States, an event made possible because of changing immigration laws — including what convictions make an individual removable from the U.S.

Cambodia has historically been slower in accepting individuals being deported from the United States because of the unique history between the two countries, but advocates have said that the targeting of the community has worsened under the Trump administration. In fiscal year 2018, a record 110 Cambodians were deported, compared to 29 and 74 in the two previous fiscal years.

According to ICE, 1,784 final orders of removal have been issued for Cambodians, 1,294 of whom are convicted criminals. Those individuals have not been detained, but there are currently 45 detained Cambodians with final orders of removal.

Along with representing refugees facing deportation, Asian Law Caucus has also partnered with other community organizations — Asian Prisoner Support Committee, Empowering Marginalized Asian Communities and the Center for Empowering Refugee and Immigrants — to address the needs of those affected because of the financial, emotional and mental tolls that detentions take on family members.

Some of the efforts the groups have collectively spearheaded and helped with included a rally on March 13 in front of the ICE building in San Francisco and a petition sponsored by The Daily Kos Liberation League asking California Gov. Gavin Newsom to help stop the deportation of Cambodian Americans by issuing pardons. The petition has so far amassed more than 14,000 signatures.

The groups also set up a fund to help affected families — many of whom are low-income — afford phone calls and visits to their detained family members, and to help detainees buy goods from the commissary inside detention facilities.

Lo said the raids appear to be petering out, though immigration check-ins and detentions are expected to continue through the end of the month. Kim said interviews for travel documents may take place through early April, and detainees could be deported by the end of the summer, based on previous raids.

ICE did not respond to a request for comment about interviews for travel documents or about the timing of deportations.

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