Cambodian communities in the United States are advocating for the right of Khmer deportees to be reunited with their families.
More than 150 community members joined the “Not home for the holidays” forum on deportation and the state of Cambodian American families held on Tuesday in Long Beach, California.
The forum took place less than two weeks before the deportation of 70 Cambodians scheduled for late December.
Attendees discussed their lives as refugees and the struggle for survival with their family members. Some of them had spent time in jail themselves.
Alisha Sim, a representative of the Cambodian Advocacy Collaborative, who is currently taking care of her sick grandparents and mother, said her brother was to be deported at the end of the month.
“If our community had access to more support services my brother might still be here in the US celebrating the holidays with us,” said Ms Sim in a joint statement released on Tuesday.
“Intergenerational trauma exists in our community and we need leaders to stand with us to fight for laws and policies that will give our community a chance to finally heal and thrive,” she added.
The Southeast Asian Resource Action Centre confirmed the scheduled deportations of Cambodians in late December, a time when most people await the presence of family members and holiday gifts.
The aftermath of deportation is a heavy burden that impacts on women who must support their families when the main income-earner, most often males, are detained or deported.
Lian Cheun, executive director of Khmer Girls in Action, urged individuals and organisations not to give up hope but instead take action by signing pledge cards in a bid to slow down or halt deportations.
Cambodia and the US have signed a Memorandum of Understanding stating they must accept their own citizens if they are subject to deportation from the other’s country.
Between 2002 and 2016, 549 people were forced to return to Cambodia.
This issue is not one that affects only Cambodia but also other countries in the region due to the new policies of President Donald Trump.
Speaking at a press briefing on Wednesday, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Murphy said the United States has many individuals who are not in the United States illegally but have broken US laws, and end up subject to deportation if they run out of legal options.
He said that following international standards, individuals who are scheduled to be deported must be accepted into their home country.
“The United States does the same thing to American citizens who break laws abroad and are identified for deportation: we must take them back in our country,” he said.
Brendan Raedy, a spokesman for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said there are more than 1,900 Cambodian nationals residing in the US who are subject to a final order of removal, 1,412 of whom have criminal convictions.
“I declare we will welcome our brothers and sisters from the US, and I will not let anyone mistreat any of you,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said last week after the deportation was announced.