A US district judge, in a ruling on Thursday, blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to immediately deport 92 Cambodian citizens still in custody in the US.
The deportees had been previously convicted of criminal charges and ordered deported, but released from immigration custody on supervised release, only to be rearrested years later.
According to a Reuters report on Saturday, US District Judge Cormac Carney, of Santa Ana, California, ruled that the Cambodian citizens were not to be deported before they had been given opportunity to have the legality of their convictions and deportations re-evaluated in court, in order to raise “serious questions”.
“It is disingenuous for the government to claim that throughout the many years that petitioners were permitted to live and work on supervised release, they should not have built up any expectation that they would be permitted to remain in the country,” he said.
Judge Carney ruled that they must not be deported until their case has been heard.
This is not the first instance of petitioners filing for a stay of removal until they had challenged their deportation orders.
Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrations’ Rights Project, who represents the Cambodians, said that three other US judges have issued similar rulings stopping the government from quickly deporting immigrants who have long lived in the country. Those rulings involved Iraqis, Indonesians and Somalians.
Almost all of the Cambodians affected arrived in the US as infants who fled with their families in the 1970s from the Khmer Rouge genocide.
Many were born in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines, and have never set foot in Cambodia.
In the US, the Cambodian refugee communities struggle with unaddressed trauma, poverty, and violence-ridden neighbourhoods.
“We welcome the judge’s decision because it has rendered to our Cambodian compatriots’ fairness and justice on the basis of both US laws and the universal principles of human rights,” Chum Sounry, a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said.
“The US judge’s decision proves clearly that the visa restriction imposed on September 13, 2017 on senior officials of Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation for ‘delaying the repatriation process’ is unreasonable, unfair and even counter to US laws.”
“We take this auspicious opportunity to renew our appeal to the US to lift its visa restriction in order to pave the way for the resumption of the excellent bilateral cooperation on MIA searches,” he added.
Neither the US embassy in Phnom Penh nor the US’s Department of Homeland Security could be reached for comment.