HomeCambodian/ Khmer AmericanCambodian Americans Deportations Continue; Are Vietnamese Americans Next?

Cambodian Americans Deportations Continue; Are Vietnamese Americans Next?

Cambodian deportations

Views from the Edge

About 40 Khmer Americans are in a country they’ve never set foot in before. Many don’t speak the language.

The department of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported the Cambodian refugees Monday from its detention center in El Paso, Texas. They were scheduled to land in the Cambodian capitol, Phnom Penh on Wednesday (Tuesday, PST).

Another 9,000 Vietnamese who sought asylum during and after the Vietnam War decades ago may also be at risk of deportation, as U.S. officials and Vietnamese officials this month discuss reinterpreting an agreement protecting them from deportation.

The moves reflect the hard line stance against refugees by the Trump administration, which has widened the pool of deportees beyond recent arrivals to include those who have put down roots in the U.S, a generation ago.


An ICE official said it is policy not to comment on the deportation flights, but representatives of immigration advocates and civil rights groups confirmed the departure from Texas.

Most of the people on the chartered jet on its way to Cambodia are men and a few women, according to Anoop Pasad, senior staff attorney with Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus. He said his San Francisco-based organization represented six clients who were slated to be on that flight and five were able to get last-minute reprieves from their deportation orders.


“Almost everyone is leaving family behind,” he said. “Almost no one has surviving family in Cambodia.”


Katrina Dizon Mariategue, director of national policy for the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center in Washington, D.C., told NPR that Trump’s policy is “short-sighted and very unfair.”

  “Many [of those being deported] were born in refugee camps,” Mariategue said. “They don’t speak the language, it’s really hard to imagine a means of survival, especially because they don’t know the culture.”


ICE deported 79 Cambodians during Fiscal Year 2016, and 29 in Fiscal Year 2017. ICE told NPR in an email that the agency removed 110 Cambodian immigrants in Fiscal Year 2018.


Orders for deportation have been sent to 2,000 Khmer Americans. Most of them were convicted of crimes — from possession of drugs to murder — that they committed in their youth. After serving their sentences, most of them have become productive residents, holding jobs, going to school and raising families.


The Trump administration wants to expand its deportation policies to include Vietnamese Americans who have been in this country since the Vietnam War.  


The State Department said it would continue negotiations with Vietnam to repatriate some of its immigrants who’ve committed crimes. Like the Cambodian immigrants, many Vietnamese were resettled in the U.S. during and after the Vietnam War, said Melanie Kim, an attorney with Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus.


“These are not people who haven’t been held accountable, these are all people who’ve gone through the criminal justice system, they have paid their debt to society,” Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, told NPR.


“It is true you are subject to deportation [if you break certain laws],” said Meissner, who headed the Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1993 to 2000. But it’s not the same as what is depicted as “criminals on the loose” by the Trump administration, she said.


“We condemn the Trump Administration’s inhumane efforts to deport Cambodian community members right before the holidays, and we denounce the US government’s ongoing effort to change its historical interpretation on the ability to deport Vietnamese refugees,” said Quyen Dinh, executive director of SEARAC.


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