After five years in Cambodia and nine years in a U.S. prison, Veasna Meth is finally home.
“I knew one day I would be able to get back,” he told the Sacramento Bee Thursday upon his return to San Francisco International Airport.
Home for Meth is Sacramento, Calif. where he he grew up. He was 1-year old when he and his family immigrated to the U.S. as refugees. Between 1975 and 2000, the US accepted 145,000 Cambodian refugees as part of an influx of Cambodians displaced by war.
He was deported under Obama-era policies that prioritized the deportation of immigrants who had committed violent crimes.
In 2008, at the age of 19, Meth burglarized an unoccupied house by breaking in with friends. As soon as he finished his year-long sentence, ICE tried to deport him. However, a judge ruled that his offense didn’t justify deportation.
ICE persisted however and in their second try, they found a judge that approved Meth’s deportation in 2014.
The Trump administration began visa sanctions on Cambodia, along with three other countries, in September 2017 to force them to accept deportees.
In April of last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Sessions v. Dimaya (Fiipino American James Dimaya) that the definition of “crime of violence” – which is grounds for deportation – was unconstitutionally vague. With the decision, the California conviction of residential burglary is no longer a removable offense, and within 30 days, Meth’s attorneys from the San Francisco-based Asian Law Caucus challenged Meth’s old removal order.
“Mr Meth’s return from deportation gives hope that others will also be able to reunite with their families in the United States,” said Kevin Lo, one of Meth’s lawyers. He notes that Meth is the second Cambodian to return home, who coincidentally is another Sacramento resident.
“I’m excited to see my kids and to be back on American soil,” Meth told the Khmer Times. “I don’t quite know how to express it, but I just want to go outside and kiss the ground.”
The Trump administration began visa sanctions on Cambodia, along with three other countries, in September 2017 to force them to accept deportees. About 1,900 Cambodians currently live in the United States with deportation orders. ICE has ramped up roundups and raids and expects to deport about 200 Cambodian refugees a year.
“For me to get deported to a country I wasn’t born in, it’s crazy,” Meth told the Sacramento Bee. “Growing up, all I thought I was, was a citizen. … Nobody ever taught me, ‘Hey if you commit a crime you’re going to get deported’ (until) it was too late.”
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