As we cherish our loved ones this holiday season, 36 Khmer Americans will be oceans apart from their families in a place most have never been before.
Roughly a week before Christmas, these community members were packed on an Omni Air International flight to Cambodia. The 36 Khmer Americans were part of a late summer wave of raids by ICE into our communities, which included the seizure of seven Khmer Americans (knows as the Washington 7, or WA7) from the Seattle-Tacoma area.
Khmer Americans are one of the most vulnerable refugee communities in the U.S. and have endured a continuous cycle of displacement and re-displacement; U.S. bombings, a genocide, an ensuing refugee wave — and now deportation.
“He’s my father figure,” said Ms. Jane Chan about her uncle Mr.Thouy Phok, one of the WA7. “Since my Grandpa passed… he’s been the one to hold us all together,” said Ms. Chan.
Chan’s situation is particularly devastating; last year, her father was deported and the trauma played out all over again. “I don’t even know, I just feel like I would shut down, I don’t want to have to go through this again.”
“When he was five, the Khmer Rouge took him away from me,” said Ms. Lorng Raing, about her son Mr. Roeuth An, one of the WA7. “When they [ICE] took him away, all those emotions came rushing back.”
The removals of the 36 community members have sent shock waves through the community.
However, the tide is turning. Following this latest wave, an ad hoc group led by some of the family members of the WA7, have come together.
The Khmer Anti-deportation Advocacy Group of Washington (KhAAG) was formed to mobilize on behalf of the WA7, and to arm the community with resources and information to push back. This group works with a broader coalition of legal experts, partners in policy and community activists.
We’re calling for:
Know Your Rights (KYR) training: Fund culturally appropriate and language accessible Know Your Rights (KYR) trainings. This needs to be county funded for our community, and the renewal of the Legal Defense Fund ($2.2 million in King County 2019-2020) budget can be a funding source to equitably distribute among high impact communities like ours.
Re-open your case: Don’t wait until the next raid to scramble for legal help or learn how to fight back during a crisis. Once you and/or a loved one are detained, it’s exponentially harder for lawyers to start the process of fighting a deportation order. Community members that are not detained now, look into your old case(s) ASAP. There are viable legal options for most of our members. Here are steps to take in preparation for re-opening your case and working with a lawyer.
Elected officials, stand with us: We call on our elected officials to publicly stand with us and demand justice for Southeast Asian refugees faced with the uncertainty and terror of deportations. Sign onto congressional letters, championed by many of our local leaders in support of families under attack. Denounce policies or bilateral agreements that would remove protections for our most vulnerable members. Also, until the pardons and clemency process is restructured to properly address the crisis our communities face, there needs to be a pathway that will expedite and/or prioritize our pardon hearings and case relief options when families find themselves in crisis.
A ripple effect has begun; Mr. Roueth An received a pardon by Washington state Governor Jay Inslee and will not be deported. He will stay with his family. “I’m just so happy he’s back with us, I spent many months of sleepless nights,” said Ms. Raing through tears.
In the process of applying for a pardon, Mr. Phok was released from ICE detention due to a technicality in his case. He will also get to stay with his family. “Breathless. In shock. Overwhelmed. I don’t know. It’s hard to find words to how we felt,” said Ms. Chan.
These victories were won on the shoulders of tireless SE Asian organizers since 2002, leadership of impacted families, community advocates, intersectional allies, national networks, legal aid, CAPAA, and the WA State Clemency & Pardons Board.
Governor Inslee’s decision to grant a pardon speaks to the crisis so many of our families face across the country. Too often and for far too long, our communities were drowning in silence, believing we were undeserving, hopeless in fighting this battle.
Breaking through the fear and shame has been difficult, but that tide is shifting, and currents change, slowly but surely.
Thank you to Governor Inslee, you stand on the right side of history. Congratulations to the An and Phok Family!
However, there are more storms to weather. Before the wheels even touched the tarmac on the latest flight, the Khmer community was put on alert yet again by news of imminent ICE raids in the new year. The Trump administration has also set their sights on our Vietnamese brothers and sisters, with them we share space on our vessel. Please add your name to the thousands who have urged the administration to stop upending Vietnamese and Southeast Asian refugee communities here.
There is still much more work to be done, we will continue to rock the boat together.
We know that this is a long-term fight against the deportation machine. If you are interested in staying updated about the fight against Southeast Asian deportation, and potential opportunities to engage in organizing efforts, please fill out this contact form:
Sign-Up/Contact Form: Organize against Southeast Asian Deportations
A community effort to advocate, support, and provide resources for our community members who are unfairly targeted by I.C.E. with orders of removal, detained, or deported in Washington State.
Created by non-profit and community organizations to provide resources and up to date information for people facing deportation to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
Southeast Asian Solidarity Toolkit: A Guide to Resisting Detentions and Deportations
Tools, tips, and best practices around organizing, advocacy, and legal strategies employed by #ReleaseMN8 campaign organizers in their fight to free their loved ones.
Resource Guide for Southeast Asian Americans Facing Criminal Deportation
This resource guide was designed to help noncitizens from Cambodian, Hmong, Laotian, and Vietnamese American communities who have criminal convictions and currently face deportation, or who have pending criminal charges and may face deportation in the future.
Legal Support for pro-bono case consult and pardon relief
Seattle Clemency Project
Immigration lawyers for order of removals if the above resources cannot assist
Chou Colwell PS
Immigration & Personal Injury
11900 N.E. 1st St., Suite 300
Bellevue, WA 98005
CARNEY & MARCHI, P.S.
108 So. Washington St. No. 406
Seattle, Washington 98104
Po Box 1668, Moses Lake, WA 98837
Criminal Defense Lawyers for post-conviction relief
Attorney Tim Askerov of Black Law PLLC
Resources in Cambodia
Khmer Vulnerability Aid Organization