Local Cambodian refugees with criminal convictions from decades ago are being ordered to report to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to begin the deportation process this week — causing an outcry from Asian American activists who plan to band together for a rally in Boston Monday.
Five of the refugees who received notices for deportation live in Lowell, the city with the nation’s second largest Cambodian community.
“This is so unfair to them,” said Lowell’s Paul Ratha Yem, who came to America from Cambodia in 1979. “They arrived here at such a young age, some ended up doing some stupid stuff as teenagers, but they served their time and now have families here.
“Their wives and children would have no support,” he added. “It’s a losing proposition for everybody.”
Yem said he knows one of the Cambodians who received a notice for deportation. That Lowell man joined a gang, and went to jail for a stabbing decades ago, according to Yem, who declined to provide the man’s name or details on other cases.
“When coming here as refugees, many went to cities that were hard to grow up in, and were exposed to gang violence,” said Lowell’s Sovanna Pouv, the executive director of the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association. “Some might have made a bad choice, but they have served their time and re-established themselves into society, living like a normal citizen in this country. They wouldn’t get deported if they were a citizen of this country.”
“No one is exempt if the rule of law is followed,” Todd Michael Lyons, ICE’s New England Field Office deputy director, said in a statement Sunday. “Congress has the ability to change, edit and rewrite immigration laws. Congress can both change the law and protect the public. Lawmakers have the ability to fix the immigration law crisis without painting law enforcement as a threat or Nazis.”
The refugees came here after their families fled Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime.
In addition to the five Cambodians in Lowell facing deportation, five other Cambodians living in Massachusetts have been served notices to report to ICE to begin the deportation process this week.
The Cambodian deportations have been happening since about 2002, when Cambodia agreed to begin repatriating refugees convicted of felony crimes in the U.S.
But they’ve risen sharply since President Trump took office and imposed visa sanctions on Cambodia and a handful of other nations in order to compel them to speed up the process.
The result has been a roughly 280% increase, from 29 removals in federal fiscal year 2017 to 110 in federal fiscal year 2018, according to ICE data.
There are nearly 1,800 Cambodians with final removal orders living in the country. The majority have criminal convictions but are on supervised release and not in detention, ICE said.
In response to the deportation orders, Asian American activists are planning a rally in Boston Monday called “Refugee Resistance: Rally to Stop Cambodian Raids NOW!”
The activists said they’re calling for a halt to the deportations, and are standing in solidarity with the Cambodian community. They’re also urging elected officials and legislators to publicly support the Southeast Asian community.
“We hope more people learn about what’s going on in the Cambodian community and support the Southeast Asian community,” said Kevin Lam, an organizer with the Asian American Resource Workshop. “The government needs to be held accountable.”
The rally is planned for 11:30 a.m. Monday at the JFK Federal Building in Boston.