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Lawsuit filed to protect Cambodian refugees from ICE raids and deportation


Los Angeles , CA United States

An advocacy group announced a lawsuit to block the detention of Cambodian refugees who have been rounded up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, claiming the detentions violate their rights.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court – California Central District, said that ICE rounded up these Cambodians without notifying them of why they were being detained or justifying them as a risk to the community. It sought the release of all detainees and a court order blocking similar detentions, along with a declaration that this action was illegal.

There are two named plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit so far, but more were expected more to join, estimating almost 2,000 Cambodians in America who could be targeted for deportation, said Christopher Lapinig, a lawyer for Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, who filed the lawsuit with AAAJ-SF and the law firm Sidley Austin.

“What we see here are clearly unconstitutional and illegal actions by the federal government,” Lapinig said.

ICE would not comment on the lawsuit itself, but said that international law requires countries to accept their nationals ordered deported by 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,” wrote ICE spokesman Brendan Raedy in an email.

Raedy also said that 1,412 of those Cambodians had criminal convictions.

The targeted refugees fled Cambodia in the 1970s to escape genocide. Many obtained permanent residency in the United States, but were then convicted of various crimes.

Since their convictions, many of these refugees formed families, built careers and otherwise contributed to American society, said Lapinig. In the past, the federal government targeted these Cambodians for deportation, but released them after Cambodia refused to repatriate them. Recently, the Cambodian government suspended a 2002 repatriation agreement with the United States, under which they accepted around 35 people a year. AAAJ-LA believed that the Trump administration was trying to use visa sanctions to force Cambodia to re-implement the agreement.

One of the two named plaintiffs, 42-year-old Nak Kim “Rickie” Chhoeun was living in Long Beach. His cousin Posda Tuot said he recently accompanied Chhoeun to his regular ICE check-in. Yet Chhoeun never returned, and later called Tuot from a nearby detention facility.

“It was just heartbreaking not to see him walk out,” Tuot said.

Tuot said that Chhoeun turned his life around after getting out of prison, taking in a homeless individual and complying fully with the law, including attending his immigration check-ins, despite the risk of deportation.

“Even though he knew one day this day would come, he walked in there proud,” said Tuot. “It’s something he wouldn’t run from.”

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