Deportations of Vietnamese, Cambodians Leave Bay Area Asian Immigrants Shaken

Tatiana Sanchez, Mercury News, November 9, 2017

More than 200 Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants across the Bay Area and nationwide were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in October in never-before-seen roundups that have left communities shocked and in fear, according to local and national immigration activists.

Many of those detained have been transferred to detention centers in southern states as they await deportation. Others have already been sent back to their home countries, they said.

Activists and attorneys attribute the sudden surge in ICE activity to a White House administration set on doubling down on deportations across the U.S., particularly against immigrants whose home countries — in this case Cambodia and Vietnam — haven’t historically cooperated with U.S. removal orders. ICE officials are largely targeting Asian immigrants with previous criminal convictions who were subsequently issued removal orders — people who have established longtime roots in the U.S. and up until now had flown under the government’s radar year after year, organizers said.


In a prepared statement, ICE spokesman James Schwab said, “International law obligates each country to accept the return of its nationals ordered removed from the United States. The United States itself routinely cooperates with foreign governments in documenting and accepting its citizens when asked, as do the majority of countries in the world.”


Vietnamese and U.S. officials in 2008 signed a repatriation memorandum that in part said Vietnamese immigrants who arrived to America before 1995 would not be subject to deportation. Activists, however, said some of the individuals detained in October arrived before 1995, leaving them to wonder whether some of these deportations are legal.


Staff with Asian Americans Advancing Justice in San Francisco and Los Angeles and Sidley Austin LLP last month filed a national class action lawsuit challenging the detention of Cambodian immigrants by ICE, saying they are unlawful.


Cambodia in 2002 signed a repatriation agreement with the United States which allowed for a certain number of Cambodian immigrants to be deported each year. But only this year have deportations amongst Cambodians spiked at these levels, according to activists. They said an estimated 500 Cambodians have been detained nationwide since the memo was signed, compared to 100 in October alone, making these the largest raids ever to target the Cambodian community. The Department of Homeland Security in September issued visa sanctions on Cambodia, Eritrea, Sierra Leone and Guinea, immediately halting all issuance of temporary visas.


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