In a rare motion initiated by a US immigration lawyer, a Cambodian deportee returned to San Francisco to be reunited with his family after the US Supreme Court ruled that his crime was not a deportable offence.
Asian Law Caucus attorney Kevin Lo yesterday said the US embassy in Phnom Penh has sanctioned the return of 29-year-old Veasna Meth.
Mr Meth was removed from the United States in 2014 after he was convicted of residential burglary.
Mr Lo said Mr Meth’s conviction is no longer a deportable offence after the court ruled the crime as not a “crime of violence” in Sessions vs Dinaya. “Mr Meth’s return from deportation gives hope that others will also be able to reunite with their families in the United States,” Mr Lo said.
He noted that the return of Mr Meth marks the second time a deportee is able to return to the US.
“We have already succeeded in two cases for deportees to return and we plan to file more in the future,” Mr Lo said.
He added that the first deportee to return was Phorn Tem and he went back in November.
Mr Meth, who has already flown back to San Franciso, yesterday said he couldn’t wait to return to his family.
“I’m excited to see my kids and to be back on American soil,” he said. “I don’t quite know how to express it, but I just want to go outside and kiss the ground.”
Mr Lo said Mr Meth was born in a refugee camp in the Philippines and that he was convicted for the crime in 2008 after sneaking into a private home with his friends.
Mr Meth is married to a US citizen and the couple has two children, he said, noting that he first met Mr Meth in 2017 and was able to file his case last year following the court decision.
“We filed to reopen his case and an immigration judge granted it on November 8,” he said, noting that the judge restored Mr Meth’s permanent residency status.
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.
Keo Sothie, a former Colorado state public defender, said the immigration stance of President Donald Trump’s administration towards Cambodians in America is unfair.
“I don’t think it was fair at all, they [deportees] do not know Cambodia – they live in the US and it is all they have ever known,” Mr Sothie said. “Yes, they committed crimes – and sometimes horrible crimes – but the US is their home.”