HomeCommunity IssuesCalifornia governor pardons two Cambodian refugees

California governor pardons two Cambodian refugees

Cambodian refugee deportation protest
A demonstration in Sacramento preceded Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pardons of two Cambodian Americans Photo from SEARAC

Views from the Edge

After weeks of lobbying by Asian American advocacy groups, California Gov. Gavin Newsom pardoned two Cambodian refugees facing deportation.

Kang Hen and Hay Hov received pardons from Newsom  Monday preventing their immediate deportation by U.S. immigration authorities. 

“We are deeply grateful to Governor Newsom for recognizing the plight of refugees who are being targeted by the Trump administration and for acting with compassion and leadership to stop their deportations,” said Aarti Kohli, Executive Director of Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus.
Kang and Hay came to the United States as refugees with their families when they were children fleeing genocide under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. 

Growing up in impoverished and hyper-criminalized neighborhoods, they made mistakes as youth and were swept into the criminal system. Under the Trump administration, because of their criminal records, they were eligible for deportation. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested them to deport them for decades-old crimes. 

Thousands of other Southeast Asian refugees who came to the United States as children also face deportation like Hay and Kang.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who preceded Newsom, pardoned five Cambodian refugees last year as the Trump administration ramped up its deportations of Asian immigrants, according to the governor’s office.

“The Cambodian refugee community is terrified,” said Kevin Lo, an attorney with the Asian Law Caucus.
Kang Hen fled genocide in Cambodia as a small child. Kang’s family was resettled as refugees in a violent neighborhood in San Jose. As a 12-year-old, Kang was pressured into joining a gang.

In 1994, shortly after his 18th birthday, Kang agreed to drive two friends away from a robbery they had just committed. He pleaded guilty to robbery and served time in prison. Since then, Kang has lived a law abiding life in San Francisco working at a seafood business for the past 13 years. Kang and his partner of 17 years, Ruth, have a 3-year-old child together. Recently, Ruth learned that she suffered from heart and kidney failure and may not survive. ICE arrested Kang on April 1 and planned to deport him next month.

Similarly, Hay also fled genocide in Cambodia as a small child and was resettled as a refugee in a violent neighborhood in East Oakland. As a child, Hay was beaten up, stabbed, and hit with a stray bullet. 

At the age of 19, Hay got into a verbal argument with an older man in his neighborhood. The feud between the two escalated as they exchanged verbal threats. The older man was shot in an unrelated argument and recovered. Hay was accused of escalating the feud and convicted of solicitation of murder. 

In the two decades since getting out of prison, Hay has stayed out of trouble and focused on caring for his family and working. On March 13, ICE agents arrested Hay and sought his deportation due to the conviction.
The governor’s office says Newsom chose the two men because they have rehabilitated their lives since their convictions. He also took into account that both their families would be harmed if Hen and Hov are deported, 
Hen is still in custody, but his lawyers hope Newsom’s pardon will mean he is spared from deportation, Lo said.

The campaign to #PardonRefugees was co-led by civil rights and community-based organizations, including Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, Asian Prisoners Support Committee, Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, Empowering Marginalized Asian Communities, Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants, and Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity.

“California recognizes that it has made mistakes in the past leading to mass incarceration. For many immigrant youth, a criminal conviction carries consequences for the rest of their lives including deportation. We encourage Governor Newsom’s continued leadership in granting clemency to address mass incarceration and show that California will not be bullied by the Trump administration,” said Anoop Prasad, Senior Staff Attorney with Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus.”We hope to continue working with Governor Newsom on setting an example for the rest of the country,” said Prasad.

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