Cambodian refugees convicted of crimes in the United States have been granted temporary leave to remain in the country after a federal judge ruled they must not be deported until a January hearing into their case.
The United States District Court of the Central District of California granted the petitioners’ application for a temporary restraining order to prevent the deportation of approximately 100 Cambodian-Americans.
The decision came after petitioners filed an application last week seeking a stay of removal until they had the opportunity to challenge their deportation orders.
“It is hereby ordered that the government is temporarily restrained and enjoined from executing petitioners’ final orders for removal,” read the court document signed by judge Cormac J. Carney.
“Given the speed with which the government intends to remove petitioners, the court finds that a temporary restraining order is necessary to stay removal until the court can give proper consideration to the complex issues presented in this action.”
The order applies to the removal of petitioners and “all Cambodian citizens in the United States who received final orders of deportation or removal to Cambodia, and were subsequently released from Immigration Customs Enforcement custody, who have been or may be re-detained for removal by ICE”.
A fresh hearing into the case of those facing deportation will now take place in California on January 11.
Last week Cambodian communities in the US gathered to denounce the planned deportations, calling for those convicted of crimes to be allowed to remain with their families in America.
More than 150 community members joined the “Not home for the holidays” forum on the issue, held in Long Beach, California.
Kevin Lo, staff attorney with Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the law firm Sidley Austin LLP, said the federal judge’s order will prevent about 50 Cambodians being deported on flights that were due to leave today.
He said about 80 travel documents had been issued by Cambodia, while ICE had scheduled 50 of the detainees to leave Texas today, arriving into Phnom Penh on Wednesday.
“No Cambodians will be deported and the judge will hear from both the US government and us on January 11 to decide on further action,” said Mr Lo.
“We are glad the judge recognised the need to stop the rushed deportations of the Cambodian refugees. It will give more time for families to find legal help to try to keep their loved ones in the United States.”
“We are going to use the extra time to help more people file motions to reopen cases so that we can keep Cambodian American families from being torn apart,” he added.
Mr Lo said the restraining order covers all Cambodians currently in detention.
Fifty people were scheduled to be deported this month and 28 in January.
A total of 113 people have been arrested by ICE; 95 remain in detention, while 18 were released.
ICE spokesman Brendan Raedy 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.
Many petitioners in the case fled Cambodia as small children in the 1970s during the Khmer Rouge regime. They have been living in the US for decades but face deportation after committing crimes in the country.