A Cambodian American refugee deported in August 2018 has returned home to his family in Massachusetts this week.
Thy Chea, a resident of Lowell, Massachusetts, fled Cambodia at the age of 10 with his parents and five siblings to escape the deadly Khmer Rouge. They took shelter in a Thai refugee camp before flying to the U.S. in 1981.
In 1999, Chea spent three months in jail after pleading guilty to assault and battery and “threat to commit a crime.” Federal officials ordered his deportation the following year, according to the Associated Press.
However, without a repatriation agreement between the U.S. and Cambodia, Chea’s deportation order was suspended in 2004, allowing him to stay in the country as long as he did not commit further crimes and checked in regularly with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.
Then, in August 2018, what Chea thought was a routine check-in marked the beginning of life away from his family. He was detained, and by the time he secured an emergency stay, he was already on a plane off to Cambodia.
Chea’s attorney, Bethany Li, motioned to have his green card reinstated because not only was his offense not deportable, but he was also sentenced incorrectly.
The judge initially denied Li’s motion, but in June 2019, she eventually reinstated Chea’s green card.
Unfortunately, they still faced several issues. The U.S. consulate refused to issue Chea’s travel documents, while the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recharged him with new removal proceedings.
In December 2019, Li asked the court to order the release of Chea’s travel documents.
“Enough was enough. We filed a mandamus in federal court, meaning we were asking the court to order the Department of State to issue travel documents so that he could return home as a green card holder,” Li said, according to AsAm News.
After a few weeks of exchange between Li and the DHS, the consulate finally released Chea’s travel documents.
On Wednesday, Chea landed at the Boston Logan International Airport to reunite with his wife and two children. Supporters greeted him with signs that read “Welcome Home” and “Unjustly Deported.”
“I’m so grateful to be with my family. It’s been 18 months. This is my kid,” Chea said while looking at his 1-year-old son, whom he met for the first time.
Chea is the fourth Cambodian American to the return to the U.S. after being deported.