A judge in Los Angeles ordered federal immigration officials to temporarily halt any surprise raids on Cambodian immigrants living in the U.S. with deportation orders.
The order undermines efforts of the Trump administration to ramp up deportations to Phnom Penh, which suffered visa sanctions when it stopped issuing travel documents to returnees in 2017.
In his decision on Thursday, Judge Cormac J. Carney prohibited the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to conduct unannounced raids, ordering instead that a Cambodian national with a deportation order must receive a 14-day written notice prior to detainment.
“For years, ICE has been tearing Cambodian refugees from their families without any warning, giving them no chance to talk to a lawyer or even say goodbye to their loved ones,” Jenny Zhao, a lawyer at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus (AAAJ – ALC), told BuzzFeed News. “The judge has put a stop to that practice for now. It’s inhumane and illegal.”
In October 2017, more than 100 Cambodian immigrants — most of whom held green cards — were arrested in a crackdown that effectively separated them from loved ones. Around 70 were scheduled to be deported in “batches” two months later, with a group of nine leaving just before the holidays.
Deportations to Cambodia were much higher last year with a 279% increase compared to 2017. A record 36 — the largest group yet — were sent back in December.
Most of those with deportation orders fled Cambodia as war refugees or defectors of the infamous Khmer Rouge, which left up to 1.8 million citizens dead.
While many of them received such orders after being convicted of a crime, many also reported without failure to immigration officials and lived their lives according to the law.
The refugees filed a class action lawsuit on Oct. 27, 2017 to prevent further detentions and safeguard their due process rights under the U.S. Constitution. In August, Carney approved class protection to those who had not committed any crimes since they received deportation orders.
According to Courthouse News, members then sought assurances that the government would provide written notice before a raid, but Justice Department attorneys argued that they cannot do so without a court order. When the immigrants’ attorneys replied that they would seek emergency relief in court, officials asked for a delay until after the federal government shutdown.
The immigrants’ attorneys agreed to delay, on the condition that no more raids will be conducted before Jan. 7, but government officials would not guarantee it.
“Given the Government’s failure to provide the Court adequate assurances that Petitioners will be afforded sufficient pre-detention notice before the Court issues its ruling, the Court finds that a temporary restraining order is necessary,” Carney wrote on Thursday’s order.
Justice Department attorneys have not commented on the order as of this writing. A hearing to decide on its possible extension is scheduled for Jan. 28 in Los Angeles.
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