Cambodian Americans from Minnesota are about to be deported to a country they’ve never been to

Guest Post by Vichet Chhuon

Sameth Nhean and his family.

Eight Cambodian Americans from Minnesota are currently being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These men were detained last August as part of nation-wide raid by ICE. The families of these detained individuals have dubbed themselves the "MN 8" and are demanding the immediate release of their loved ones back to their families.

The MN 8 are seemingly caught up in an immigration system that since 1996 strictly limits the abilities of immigration judges to consider issues of family ties, atonement, and rehabilitation. The deportation of Cambodian Americans began swiftly following a 2002 repatriation agreement between the US and Cambodian governments. Each of the detained individuals have a past aggravated felony conviction, which triggered their deportation orders. An aggravated felony is wide ranging category of which the conviction could trigger at least a 1-year sentence. Each of these men have served their sentences and were leading otherwise regular lives with spouses, children and work when they were detained.

Ched Nin and his family.

One of these detainees is Ched Nin, 36, who has lived in the US for 30 years and is married to a US citizen. He also has 5 US born children. Ched's wife, Jennifer Srey, shared: "They did their time for their crime. Putting them back in detention right now is double jeopardy. Sending them to a country that my husband has never been to, he was born in a Thai refugee camp, he doesn't speak the language, to me- it's considered a life sentence. It's taking him away from family, everybody he knows, and putting him in a country that he doesn't know."

Another detainee, Sameth Nhean, 34, pled guilty to second degree assault in 2003 for which he served 3 months in county jail. When he was detained last August, he had a good machinist job in Saint Paul, and his wife, Sokha Kul, explained how much his 10 year old son looked forward to ice fishing with his father this winter. This had been their tradition for the last few years. Sameth has three other children including a teenage daughter who wants him to teach her how to fix cars.

Six of the 8 men, including Ched and Sameth, were born in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines after their families fled genocide and violence in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge regime oversaw the "killing fields" period of Cambodian history (1975-1979). During this time, approximately a third of the country's population perished from disease, famine, and murder. Prior to the Khmer Rouge's takeover, Cambodia (and neighboring Laos) experienced massive US bombings raids across it's countryside in the early 1970's. US military forces sought to disrupt Vietnamese communist supply lines, disregarding the neutrality of both Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War. These bombing raids both devastated Cambodia's agricultural infrastructure and contributed significantly to political instability that eventually gave rise to the Khmer Rouge.

Thus, the MN 8 are experiencing a particular injustice given that the US government must bear responsibility for helping cultivate the conditions that forced their families to leave their homeland and seek refuge abroad. Each of them came to the US many years ago as young children. Something is critically wrong with a system that deports individuals who arrived here as refugee infants and toddlers.

RELEASEMN8 2 from Edwin Irwin on Vimeo.

Please stand with families and help us demand the immediate release of the MN 8.

More here:

  • Brought as kids, possibly deported as adults, several Cambodians await federal action

  • The U.S. Is Deporting Cambodian Refugees and Orphaning Their Children

  • Stop the deportations of Cambodians in Minnesota #Not1More

  • The quiet deportation of Cambodian refugees you haven’t heard about

Vichet Chhuon is Associate Professor of Culture and Teaching and Asian American Studies at the University of Minnesota. He and his family came to the US as Cambodian refugees in 1981.

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