By Akemi Tamanaha, AsAmNews Associate Editor
Protestors gathered at a rally on the west steps of the California State Capitol building Thursday to call for the pardoning of Vietnamese war refugee Lam Hong Le. The pardon is the only way to stop Le from being deported to Vietnam.
“Pardon Lam! Pardon Lam!” protestors chanted on the capitol steps.
The rally was hosted by Tsuru for Solidarity, a Japanese American social justice organization working to end racist, inhumane immigration policies. They are asking California Governor Gavin Newsom to pardon Le for crimes he committed in his youth.
Speakers praised Le for turning his life around while in prison. After his release, Le became an essential worker.
“[Le’s] story is about redemption, compassion, a second chance and of promise,” Josh Kaizuka, a Sacramento-based criminal attorney, said in his speech.
Le, 52, came to America without his parents as a Vietnam war refugee at the age of 12 in 1981. He spent years living in abusive households before finding a home within a gang.
In 1992, Le was convicted of a gang-related murder and sentenced to 34 years in prison. Videos created by Tsuru for solidarity explain how Le rehabilitated himself throughout his time in prison.
The state granted Le parole in October 2019 after serving 32 years in state prison. Le tasted freedom for minutes before being detained by ICE. He spent more than two months in an ICE facility before signing deportation proceedings to secure his release. ICE detainees can choose not to sign the proceedings, but it means they will have to fight their deportation from inside an ICE facility.
ICE requires Le to complete check-ins with the agency as part of the deportation proceedings. His next check-in is on June 7, and ICE officials have told him to bring his passport. Dr. Satsuki Ina, a psychotherapist and one of the rally’s organizers, says the request is an “ominous threat.” Just a few weeks earlier, ICE deported 33 Vietnamese Americans.
“We felt it was really urgent that we made it public and particularly to get our voice heard to Governor Newsom,” Dr. Ina told AsAmNews at the rally. “The only way Lam can avoid being deported now is because if he gets a direct pardon because of the imminent threat of his deportation.”
Charles Joseph, a Fijian man who is also fighting deportation, spoke in solidarity with Le at the rally.
“I understand my brother’s journey and the hardship that comes with it,” Joseph said. “I have my family, and it’s hard knowing we could be just gone. The government, the system, doesn’t care about family. The system doesn’t care about building family.”
Joseph also sang a prayer chant for Le and to send regards to the sacred land protestors stood on that day.
Towards the end of the rally, Le spoke to the crowd to thank everyone for showing up. He credited organizations like Tsuru for Solidarity with helping him navigate life after prison.
“I look at you guys who take your time to come here,” Le said. “The care and compassion is really touching my heart. I hope that I will never forget each one of you.”
Tsuru for Solidarity and an organization called 18 Million Rising have sponsored a petition asking Gov. Newsom to grant Le a direct pardon. It has over 2,800 signatures so far.
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