MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Immigration is a hot button topic this campaign season with talk of mass deportations.
But legal United States citizens are now being deported, including 10 Minnesotans back to Cambodia.
In Minneapolis on Wednesday, protesters outside Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office voiced their opposition to the deportations. They held signs, with some by children reading: “Keep my dad home.”
The young Cambodian-American men are facing deportation for crimes done years ago and for which they’ve already served their time.
This story has its roots in Southeast Asia, back when U.S. allies of the Vietnam War flooded into America as refugees. Many were from Cambodia, and they fled the country without their parents.
As teens, some turned to crime. They served their time and went on to raise families.
“They say they would rather stay in prison for life in America than live a month in Cambodia,” said Kosol Sek, a Cambodian community adviser.
In recent weeks, U.S. immigration officials started rounding up Cambodian-Americans with past crimes.
Officials are now deporting them using a 2002 immigration law that allows for the expelling of legal immigrants with prior deportation orders.
“This is not about sending criminals back,” Sek said. “This is about people that have already served and have been released back to build a family, to have children.”
Supporters are now rallying for help, hoping to pressure INS for greater discretion.
They say that deporting these young men to a country they never knew is like sending them into a black hole.
“[They] can’t function in a society if they can’t speak the language, they don’t know the geography, don’t know who the leaders are, they have no friends and no neighbors,” Sek said. “They left during war.”
The men understand mistakes were made when they were young, but they say that as refugees they had little guidance as teens.
They added that since they’ve done their time, they’ve turned their lives around and become tax-paying, law-abiding U.S citizens.
Later Wednesday evening, a Sen. Klobuchar spokesperson released a statement:
“Senator Klobuchar cares deeply about the Cambodian community in Minnesota. She has been a leading advocate for immigrants and refugees across Minnesota and the country, and has helped many families cut through government red tape to reunite with their loved ones. The Senator’s office is meeting with Cambodian community members to see how we can help them.”
Also on Wednesday evening, a representative from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a statement:
ICE routinely works with foreign governments to obtain travel documents for individuals who have been ordered removed from the United States. In cases where ICE cannot obtain a travel document from a foreign government in a timely manner, or cannot otherwise carry out an immigration judge’s final order, the individuals awaiting removal oftentimes will be released from ICE custody in accordance with federal law. However, their orders of removal remain in effect until their travel documents can be secured and they can ultimately be removed to their country of origin.