Thursday, May 31, 2007

No Second Chance for Cambodian Aggravated Felon

Ngoc Nguyen of Inter Press Service News Agency, reports on the ongoing effects of the elimination of discretionary relief for aggravated felons from 1996 immigration reforms:

Kew Chea's college graduation party was also to celebrate the release of her older brother from prison.

"I had made music and a slideshow, and I invited everybody," recalled Chea. "Two months before the party and release, we found out he would be deported. My family had no clue what deportation was at the time."

Chea's family had fled Cambodia as political refugees in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge regime. She was not yet one, and her brother was four when they arrived in the United States in 1981.

As U.S. legislators discuss the latest immigration proposal, called the STRIVE Act, immigrants rights advocates are closely considering the proposed bill's impact on family reunification policies. However, immigration policies enacted in 1996 which have led to the imminent deportation of thousands of Southeast Asians are not addressed in the bill.

Chea's brother's story is similar to that of many refugee children adjusting to life in a new country.

Their parents opened a convenience store and worked long hours to support the family, but had little time to watch over them. He got caught up with bad friends and landed himself in some trouble. When he turned 18, Chea's brother, along with four friends, were arrested for a crime they committed while still juveniles.

Due to bad legal advice, he was tried as an adult. His friends were sentenced to two to three years in the California Youth Authority, while he received triple the sentence in the state penitentiary.

His family believed that after he served his time, he would eventually return home as a free man. But, in 1996, immigration laws took effect that allowed non-citizens who were convicted of crimes labeled as "aggravated felonies" to be deported. Click here for the rest of the story.

This is an issue that I have been particularly troubled with for some time. See Chapter 2 in the book, Deporting Our Souls (Cambridge Press 2006).


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