How Cambodians Are Fighting Back Against the Deportation Machine

Cambodian Advocacy Collaborative gathers in Long Beach

By Sandra De Anda

Within the last two weeks, notices have been circulating around Facebook warning of coming deportations. “ICE is planning arrests of Cambodian community members in the next few weeks,” they warn. The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) lists numbers on the notices for affected persons to obtain legal representation. Within the time that these notices were posted and circulated, 30 Cambodians have already been deported. Local Cambodian media outlets like the Phnom Penh Post have been interviewing deportees in documenting a population that’s been overlooked yet again, even within our own media platforms.

In these chaotic times many have begun to speculate. Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ) suspects “that the detentions by ICE were in retaliation to the Cambodian government’s decision to suspend a repatriation agreement with the US that was signed in 2002.” There are currently 1,900 nationals who are subject to a final order of removal, but all are being represented in a class action lawsuit filed by AAAJ-Asian Law Caucus, and Sidley Austin LLP. On August 13, Nak Kim “Richie” Chhouen stood in front of the Federal Building in Santa Ana with his family where he was interviewed by Charles Song of Khmer News. Chhouen’s case resonates with the cases of other Cambodians because 1,412 of them have criminal convictions.

Their pasts have been weaponized by ICE to define them as “deportable.” The lawsuit aims to redeem them and combat their deportation proceedings by arguing that what the government is doing is “contrary to constitutional, statutory, and regulatory law.” The case further states: “Before an individual is plucked from his life and family and forced to endure detention, the Government conducts no analysis of whether the individual is dangerous, a flight risk, or has done anything warranting his or her re-detention.”

Katrina Dizon Mariategue, SEARAC’s national director of policy, tells Orange County Immigrant Youth United (OCIYU) that the organization is expecting about 50 additional deportations by the end of the year. “This has been the biggest deportation cycle,” she says. “They’re not just happening locally, they’re happening in places like the central valley.” Sayon Syprasoueth, from the United Cambodian Community of Long Beach, also mentioned to OCIYU that the deportations are happening in Atlanta and Washington. In speaking to Syprasoueth, he mentioned that his brother was detained a couple of years ago. “A lawyer looked at his case,” he says. “They determined he wasn’t a criminal. The community rallied around him to get that pardon. It really does take work, but it was possible.”

In reading more and more about what deems a successful win in deportation cases, it seems that defendants are likelier to win their cases when they obtain a lawyer. ICE coerces people to sign papers that will give them the right to deport individuals before they even get to the step of getting legal help. If there is no due process given to people in these situations, they must be created for them. The class action suit, Chhouen and Neth v. Marin, is taking steps in the right direction in delegitimizing our modern day Leviathan, the deportation machine. 

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