HomeCambodian/ Khmer AmericanTwo Cambodians Detained in MA by ICE, Four Released

Two Cambodians Detained in MA by ICE, Four Released

Scores of protestors gathered outside the offices of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Burlington, MA while families inside awaited their fate.

By Felix Poon, AsAmNews Staff writer

Six Cambodian refugees reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in Burlington, MA yesterday not knowing if they would be deported. Two of them were not allowed to leave and are being held in custody this morning.

A crowd of close to a hundred people gathered outside to support the six who had received letters ordering them to report for detention and deportation proceedings, including Saray Im.

Im’s 22-year-old daughter, Jassyran Kim, spoke to the crowd. “My brothers and I are here, taking a stand to show you that my family will fight and we’re the next line of defense,” she said.

Kim is a student at Davidson College in North Carolina, and flew up for the week to be with her two younger brothers and parents. She told WBUR News, “I leave on Sunday and who’s here for [my brothers]? Who has a stable household now, because it’s not us. And why is that fair? Why do other families get to keep their parents and we don’t?”

The three of them and their mother, Tammie Christopulos, went into the building with Im for his check-in.

Im fled Cambodia to Thailand as a refugee of the Khmer Rouge genocide when he was two years old, and came to the U.S. when he was nine. According to a petition on Change.org, when he was 21, Im was involved in a firearm exchange. It didn’t result in any injuries, but he was arrested for it and served three years in jail. He was detained for another two years by ICE.

Now, two decades later, Im faces the possibility of being sent to a country he has little knowledge of. 

Kevin Lam, Organizing Director of the Asian American Resource Workshop (AARW), told AsAmNews that deportations like these are part of a “prison to deportation pipeline” created by legislation passed in the 90s. The 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, originally written by then-Senator Joe Biden, and signed into law by President Clinton, expanded funding for new prisons and police officers that targeted “black and brown neighborhoods.”

“Because of refugee resettlement, being placed into those communities [that] are already under resourced and underserved, Southeast Asian communities were impacted,” Lam said.

Then the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act broadened the definitions of an aggravated felony and deportable offenses, and applied retroactively to past convictions. Lam said this had repercussions for many who joined gangs as young adults to protect themselves from violence. “Sometimes that placed them into the prison system,” Lam said, “and after serving their time—ten, twenty, or thirty years later—those convictions are now putting them into deportation.”

Cambodia has repatriated deportees from the U.S. since a 2002 agreement was reached between the two countries. But under the Trump administration, deportations of Cambodians has increased by 280% between fiscal years 2017 and 2018, according to ICE data.

About twenty minutes went by with the crowd in Burlington staring anxiously at the entrance to the ICE building, waiting for Im’s family to emerge together, they hoped, with Im.

Then, the doors swung open. Im came out of the building with his family to the sound of applause and cheers from the crowd.

“I was stunned, I mean, the paper clearly said they were gonna detain me,” Im told AsAmNews. “[They] made us wait 20 minutes maybe? Then they just called my paralegal over, and they said to come back October 5th, 2020. I was like wow, really? We had a family hug…I was relieved.”

“Thousands of pounds have been lifted off our shoulders,” Christopulos told AsAmNews.

But the fight isn’t over yet for her and Im. “We’re working on things, we have attorneys, we just needed more time for our attorneys…and we got that today.”

Bethany Li, Director of the Greater Boston Legal Services’ Asian Outreach Unit, represents Im. She’s filing a habeas petition for him in the hopes of getting his conviction vacated. In case that doesn’t work, Li is also pursuing a pardon for Im, which would need to be granted by Governor Baker.

As for Kim, she wants to get involved with immigrant advocacy work when she gets back to Davidson College. “Kevin [Lam] is going to connect me with the director of an organization similar to his in North Carolina,” she told AsAmNews.

“Hopefully I can try to create a partnership or a way to organize students from my college to support them in any way, you know, with a phone-a-thon, or a rally, or creating posters…that’s what I’m trying to do when I get back to college.”

According to the AARW Facebook page, a total of four who reported to ICE today were released. Li said she’s aware of two people who were detained. In neighboring Rhode Island, a Providence resident was detained.

The names of those detained have not been made public..

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