The US Department of Homeland Security is set to deport 46 Cambodian refugees convicted of crimes in the United States on Monday, an attorney for the group said yesterday.
Kevin Lo, with the Asian Law Caucus, said he and other lawyers aiding the group of deportees have asked for intervention from California Governor Jerry Brown to halt the deportation.
“We have already asked Governor Brown of California to act now to prevent the deportations,” he said. “The governor traditionally pardons people on Christmas, but the deportation flight will have left already.”
He said that the Asian Law Caucus and other immigration attorneys across the country have also asked immigration courts to reopen cases where a client’s conviction no longer qualifies them for deportation.
The flight leaves Monday and arrives in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, he added.
“It is heartbreaking how many Cambodian American families have to say goodbye to their loved ones this week,” Mr Lo said.
Between 1975 and 2000, the US accepted 145,000 Cambodian refugees as part of an influx of Cambodians displaced by war.
The US has since begun deporting many of them convicted of crimes under a deal signed between both governments.
But as the US upped its deportations of Cambodians last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen and the government pushed back, refusing to cooperate with rising deportation as hundreds were being inhumanely displaced from their families.
A tit-for-tat between the two governments led to Mr Hun Sen suspending the POW/MIA program when Washington stopped issuing visas for some high-ranking officials after Cambodia refused to accept citizens deported from the United States following their convictions for crimes there.
However, tensions have since eased with the Cambodian government re-launching the POW/MIA program and again accepting deportees as the US reviews the visa restrictions.
The US embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment yesterday and referred questions to the Department of Homeland Security, which did not respond to requests for comment.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said that Cambodia is cooperating with the United States to accept refugees deported over crimes.
“We welcome Cambodian nationals who will return from the United States, which is an obligation of the Cambodian government in protecting our Khmer people wherever they are living,” Mr Siphan said. “But what we have noticed, to our sorrow, is that the US does not fully respect human rights as they tear families apart.”