With news that dozens of Cambodian nationals had been deported to their home country earlier this week, advocates locally have been warning community members of planned ICE raids in the coming weeks.
At least 36 Cambodians were sent from Texas back to Cambodia on Monday on a flight chartered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
While some media outlets reported that 46 Cambodians were set to be deported, Kevin Lo, an attorney with Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, told the Post that only 36 were eventually deported, with the Asian Law Caucus securing emergency stays for five of the 10 who stayed.
The group arrived at the country’s capital, Phnom Penh, on Tuesday and were turned over to Cambodian authorities, ICE said in a release. The Cambodian newspaper Khmer Times said that the deportees were transferred into the care of the Khmer Vulnerability Aid Organization.
It is unknown what U.S. cities the deportees hailed from, but ICE officials said 34 were criminals with final orders of removal. Criminal convictions included murder, child abuse, sexual assault, aggravated assault, theft, fraud and drug convictions.
“This most recent removal flight took 34 criminals, many convicted of the most heinous possible crimes, off our streets and made our communities safer,” said ICE Acting Executive Associate Director Nathalie Asher. “We will continue these efforts to carry out lawfully issued final orders of removal, prioritizing as always the removal of threats to public safety.”
However, advocates have said that many of these individuals, who came to the U.S. as refugees fleeing the Khmer Rouge genocide, not only have post-traumatic stress disorder due to growing up in Thai refugee camps and resettling, but many also faced poverty and lack of support.
Long Beach’s own Cambodia Town in Central Long Beach is considered a poverty- and crime-stricken area. The largest group of Cambodians living outside the homeland are considered to live in the city.
The removal of Cambodians from the U.S. increased 279 percent from fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2018, according to officials who credited coordination with the Department of State and the implementation of visa sanctions.
The U.S. placed visa sanctions on Cambodia last year after the country allegedly suspended a repatriation agreement that was signed in 2002 and only saw about 30 individuals deported a year. That number is now over 100 annually.
ICE raids became more frequent since last fall, which saw Long Beach resident Nak Kim “Rickie” Chhoeun arrested and illegally detained for six months. In August, a judge granted a class-action lawsuit status over the detention of the refugees. Chhoeun was released from detention in March.
Nearly 1,900 Cambodians are still living in the U.S. with a final order of removal, according to ICE, with 1,400 being convicted criminals.
According to immigrant rights advocates, more are scheduled in the coming weeks.
In Long Beach, community organizations are spreading the word to locals, urging them to call attorneys if they have a deportation order and are asked to check in with ICE soon.
ALERT: ICE is planning raids on the Cambodian community in the coming weeks. If you are Cambodian, have a deportation order & were asked to check-in with ICE soon, contact 415-952-0413 to speak to a lawyer.
— Asian Law Caucus (@aaaj_alc) December 18, 2018
Davisna Oum, program manager for community integration for United Cambodian Community in Cambodia Town, said the organization has been informing the community as well.
“We are encouraging more individuals to see if they can apply for citizenship and talk to immigration lawyers,” said Oum.
Oum said since the ICE raids last fall UCC has seen an influx of immigrants wanting help, especially longtime immigrants with past criminal records and at risk of being deported.
An attorney with Asian Americans Advancing Justice based in Orange County provides monthly pro-bono consultations at UCC, according to Oum. Community members are encouraged to call UCC.
“We’re here to help,” Oum said.
Stephanie Rivera covers immigration and the north, west and central parts of Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @StephRivera88.
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