Refugee Deportations Remain a Cause for Concern

Deportations Remain a Cause for Concern for Southeast Asian Immigrants and Refugees

Dear HAP Community,

I have been closely monitoring developments with immigration policy since the U.S. started imposing visa sanctions on Laos and Myanmar last July. Unfortunately, the situation for refugees continues to grow increasingly tense.

The most recent news involves the deportation of nearly 40 Cambodian refugees legally living in the U.S. who were deported to Phnom Penh on Monday, December 17. The action is part of the Trump administration’s policy to more aggressively deport “noncitizens who’ve committed crimes,” reported NPR, and it signals an alarming uptick in overall deportations of refugees from countries drastically destabilized by the Vietnam War. In fact, deportations of Cambodian refugees increased by 279 percent between 2017 and 2018 due to a new agreement between the U.S. and Cambodian governments, a spokesperson with ICE told NPR.

Several news organizations have offered additional details that give us a clearer picture of who exactly was affected and why. According to The New York Times, “Many of those being deported have few or no memories of Cambodia, as they were part of an exodus fleeing Khmer Rouge massacres and were granted refugee status in the United States.” Nearly all are children of refugees who fled genocide during the late 1970s, one of the worst mass killings in modern history. They were born in refugee camps and don’t speak the Khmer language, and most do not have any surviving family members still living in Cambodia.

Refugees who commit crimes are subject to deportation in accordance with the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, and the U.S. has been deporting Cambodian immigrants who committed crimes since 2002. However, it is worth noting that all of the individuals served their sentences and also faced difficult odds from the time they arrived in the States. Most were originally settled in poor neighborhoods where police enforced “tough on crime” policies and the judicial system carried out harsher than usual sentencing, explained Melanie Kim, an attorney with the Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, on NPR.

The White House is also pressuring Vietnam to take back previously protected refugees and others who immigrated before 1995, according to The Atlantic. This follows the White House’s prior orders to the Department of Homeland Security and State Department to sanction visas and deport individuals with criminal records from Laos and Myanmar, a situation that I shared with many of you last July.

I will continue to track these developments and update you as new details emerge. In the meantime, it’s imperative that we stand by immigrants and refugees and remain dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families in our diverse communities.


Bao Vang

President & CEO of HAP

You Might Also Like