Advocates representing Cambodian Americans and supporters from across the United States are protesting the recent arrest of two refugees who fled Cambodia decades ago.
Saman Pho, a 43-year-old construction worker and father of four from Oakland and Sakun Phok, a grandfather in San Jose, were reportedly ordered to report to U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement on Sansome Street on Thursday morning.
After it was later found out that the two were detained at noon, activists and community members camped outside ICE headquarters in San Francisco to demand their release.
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The crackdown against undocumented immigrants from Cambodia has been going on for weeks with dozens of Cambodians nationwide receiving summons to report to immigration authorities for removal. This is reportedly the sixth round of raids that targeted the Cambodian community, the SF Chronicle reports.
The policy of the Trump administration to deport immigrants who had criminal records has resulted in the deportation of numerous refugees. Advocates pointed out that those who came to the U.S. as children are sent back to a country they barely know of.
“They are core members of their families who are working, supporting their families and their children, their elders. When they are taken away and detained and potentially deported, that destabilizes the family,” lawyer Angela Chan, who is also a policy director at the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, was quoted as saying.
“There is a lot of PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) in this community because of them having survived the genocide in Cambodia,” she added. “Thinking that one of their loved ones will be deported back to that country, where they don’t have a support network, that’s also very traumatic to the community members here.”
In the 2019 fiscal year, ICE has already deported 80 Cambodians. According to the agency, 70 of them were convicted criminals. There were 1,764 non-detained Cambodians nationals with a final order of removal in the U.S. as of September 21. Out of those, 1,276 were allegedly convicted criminals.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) fully respects the Constitutional rights of all people to peacefully express their opinions,” said Spokesman Paul Prince in a statement in response to the protests. “That being said, ICE remains committed to performing its immigration enforcement mission consistent with federal law and agency policy.”
Most of the Cambodians targeted for deportation fled Cambodia in the late 70s out of fear of the Khmer Rouge regime that killed about 2 million people.
As immigrants with limited opportunity after landing in impoverished neighborhoods in America, many turned to a life of crime, drugs, and gangs in a bid to fit in and survive. These circumstances led to arrests that cost them their visas.
Phok, who has convictions in Fresno and Santa Clara counties, reportedly pleaded guilty to domestic violence about 20 years ago.
Meawhile, Pho was six years old when he arrived in the U.S. with his family in 1982. His family had lived in several refugee camps before coming to America. Over 20 years ago, he was convicted of attempted murder, a crime he had already served in prison for 12 years. Pho is currently seeking a pardon from California Gov. Gavin Newsom which could potentially allow him to stay in the U.S. It would not absolve him of his previous crime.