Cambodians in Long Beach Affected by Poor Living Conditions, ICE Detentions

The Cambodian Advocacy Collaborative held a forum in Long Beach on Saturday to reveal the results of a new “needs assessment” survey while drawing attention to recent immigration detentions impacting the community. The city is home to the largest Cambodian population in the nation, many of whom first arrived in the early 80’s as refugees fleeing the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal terror. The trauma continues to impact the community’s ability to thrive in many key quality of life areas, the study found.

The Collaborative—comprised of five Cambodian social service providers—partnered with Cal State University Long Beach to conduct the community needs assessment. The survey interviewed 220 people in coming to its conclusions. Participants had to be at least 18 years-old, reside in Long Beach and be Cambodian-American.

“We are frustrated that the local narrative of the Asian community does not reflect the unique needs of the Cambodian community and that disaggregated data is still not available,” says Susana Sngiem, Executive Director of United Cambodian Community, in a press statement. “The Cambodian Advocacy Collaborative decided to conduct our own research with CSULB to better uplift the voices of the Cambodian community. With this data, we can connect our member’s stories of inequities to larger community disparities that are happening across generations in the Cambodian community.”

Indeed, the needs assessment survey found many critical challenges for Cambodians living in Long Beach with regards to health, economic stability, housing and education. Nearly 30 percent of participants noted having two or more health conditions from diabetes to depression. A quarter of those surveyed either attempted suicide or knew someone who did. Poor health led to economic instability in many cases, with 20 percent having to stop working due to a physical or mental impairment.

“I cannot find work because of my mental illness,” one participant is quoted as saying. “It’s hard to find work,” another noted. “It’s hard when I don’t know the language.” 
The survey also found that three-quarters of the Cambodian community are renters, a rate 15 percent higher than the average in Long Beach. One out of every two youth reported feeling unsafe in their community due to gangs, drugs and violence. Education opportunities are hampered by chronic economic instability. More than half haven’t attended college and 22 percent of those who did left before graduating on account of financial troubles.

“The Collaborative plans to develop a list of recommendations with the Cambodian community in response to health, housing, economic stability, and education needs,” Sngiem tells the Weekly. “With the report and recommendation, the Collaborative and community members will meet with elected officials to develop policies to reduce these disparities”

Saturday’s forum also delved into a new area of concern for Cambodians in Long Beach. In October, more than a hundred Cambodians, most of whom with old criminal records, were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents nationwide as part of the Trump Administration’s efforts to pressure Cambodia into accepting deportees. The agency also targeted a similar number of Vietnamese people. Attendants signed pledge cards to support the movement against deportations while learning about a class action lawsuit against ICE calling for detainees to be immediately released. Elected officials, including Congressman Alan Lowenthal who attended the forum, signed letters denouncing the detentions.

“In recent months, constituents have contacted our offices to express terror and trauma that they are experiencing from escalated deportation tactics of this Administration,” states a Nov. 9 letter to President Trump signed by half-a-dozen Congressional members, including Lowenthal and Lou Correa. “Most, if not all, of those detained were lawful permanent residents who came to the United States as refugees following the end of the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge genocide. Many were born in refugee camps and have never set foot in the countries that ICE would remove them to.”

Joy Yanga of Khmer Girls in Action, a Collaborative partner, deems deportations a “double punishment” that would send Cambodians back to start life over again with nothing. “Deportations exacerbate the compounded trauma and chronic health conditions that Cambodian community already faces by creating more barriers, stress and grief instead of opportunities to unite and heal together,” Yanga tells the Weekly.  “Instead, trauma is passed on to the next generation when families are stripped of their dignity to fully resettle, heal and thrive.”

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