Deportation Woes Frame Immigration Rally

By Guest Columnist Apr 30, 2007

A mass mobilization of Asian Americans around immigrant rights is coming together this week starting April 30 in Washington, D.C. Roughly 400 Asian Pacific Americans are expected to gather for a two-day action ending on May 1, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and May Day. Seeking immigration reform, the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center compiled some stories of immigrants in America. Here are a few stories about families ripped apart by misinformation, racism, and an unforgiving system of crime and punishment: Keo Chea came to this country in 1981 as a baby with only her mother, her older sister and her older brother who was four. Life was tough growing up in the U.S. as refugees living in impoverished neighborhoods. On his 18th birthday, her brother was arrested with four other peers for crimes he committed as a kid. The family was given bad advice by their lawyer who chose to have her brother tried as an adult rather than a juvenile. Her brother was sentenced to the state penitentiary while his peers were given three years in the California Youth Authority. While in prison, her brother tutored other incarcerated individuals and received a scholarship to attend San Francisco State University. Unfortunately, he was never given this opportunity. Immediately upon his release, immigrations officials detained him in lieu of deportation to Cambodia. For the next three years, Keo’s family lived in a state of limbo not knowing whether her brother would be deported in the next month or spend the rest of his life in detention. Finally, in August 2004, her brother was deported to the war-torn country they fled from twenty-three years earlier. Keo’s family was never informed of the immigration consequences. Her brother was never given a second chance for a mistake he made as a kid. Although it may be too late for her brother, it is not too late for the thousands of other brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and grandfathers who currently await deportation. How much longer do immigrants have before they are granted full protection of due process? How much longer before Keo’s family is reunited? *** Caroline Vang’s family is mixed-status at the brink of being torn apart. Her father, Guy, fled Laos as a child and ended up in a refugee camp in France, where he eventually became a citizen and married Genevieve. The couple had two children in France and then moved to Dearborn, seeking to be reunited with Guy’s brothers and sisters in the United States. 10 years after Guy applied for asylum, USCIS notified Guy that his appeal is invalid. During that time, Guy & Genevieve have opened a successful restaurant in Dearborn and had two more children. Currently their case is in appeals process. What will happen to Caroline and her family? How much longer will they have together? *** Many Uch arrived as a refugee in 1984, one of thousands of Cambodians who had fled civil war and survived the Khmer Rouge genocide. Uch was only 8 years old when he and his family settled in a public-housing complex in the Puget Sound area in Washington state. In 1994, Uch became an accomplice in an armed robbery and served 40 months in prison for his crime. “I came out a different person than when I went in,” says Uch, who is now a community activist and coaches a little league team for Cambodian youth. Uch’s fate and the fate of some 1,500 other Cambodian Americans throughout the country became sealed in 1996, when the United States stiffened its immigration laws. New rules expanded the list of so-called “deportable” crimes for non-citizens, regardless of whether the person had committed that crime before 1996, or whether he had already served his sentence and had remained a law-abiding resident. Furthermore, legal appeals were also stripped. Given the context of how Cambodians first arrived in the United States, deportation is especially harsh for the many Cambodians who grew up as Americans in every way except for citizenship. As Uch puts it, the deportation law is a “double punishment.” On the day Uch completed his criminal jail sentence, he was immediately shuttled to immigration authorities, where he spent an additional 28 months in detention because Cambodia, at that time, did not accept deportees. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled against indefinite detention, which freed Uch and many others. When a repatriation agreement was signed with Cambodia in 2002, the deportations began, tearing apart families and uprooting the lives of young men who grew up as Americans.