Deportation of Cambodians from the United States

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Deportation of Cambodians from the United States typically refers to the forced repatriation of Cambodians who are convicted criminals in the United States and lack United States citizenship.


In 1977, the US Congress arranged for Cambodians, who were fleeing from the Khmer Rouge, to become permanent residents of the country through the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act, eventually making them eligible for citizenship. Most were placed in ghettos in Lowell, Massachusetts, Lynn, Massachusetts and Long Beach, California with little support from the government.[1]

In 1996, the Clinton administration signed into law immigration reforms intended to crack down on illegal immigration and terrorism under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. Deportations of Cambodians were legally permitted under that act but could not be effected due to the lack of an agreement between the United States and Cambodian governments. In March 2002, the two governments signed a treaty regulating deportation between the two countries. Cambodians who did not apply for United States citizenship were then liable to being deported even for the commission of misdemeanors, regardless of their green cards or marriage to US citizens.[2]

Some 600 Cambodian-Americans have been deported since 2002. Federal data show that deportations averaged 41 per year from 2001 through 2010, increasing to 97 in 2011 and 93 last year. Nationwide, nearly 1900 have final orders of removal, meaning they can be expelled at any time, while 669 are in deportation proceedings.[1] Deportees are typically young men in their twenties and thirties who were born in Cambodia or the Thai refugee camps and arrived in the United States as small children, members of the so-called 1.5 generation. A survey by one immigrant advocacy organization showed that deportees had spent an average of 20 years in the United States.[3]

As such, they received most or all of their education in the US, often speak Khmer poorly, and lack socialization to Cambodian culture. Much of them dropped out of school when they were young and took the streets because they had a lack of parental supervision and role models. Many once were members of Khmer youth gangs such as the Tiny Rascal gang, Asian Boyz, Oriental Boy Soldiers, Oriental Blood Brothers, and GrandVille Boys. Some were forced to leave behind wives and children in the United States.[4]

Cambodian reaction[edit]

The incidence of deportation has been projected to increase significantly; as of 2005, out of 1200 to 1500 potential deportees, 127 had been returned to Cambodia, up from 40 three years previously.[3] Bill Herod, a long-time resident of Cambodia, established the Returnee Assistance Program, a non-governmental organization, to assist deportees in transitioning to life in Cambodia. However, deportees receive no official support, and Cambodian government officials have expressed their consternation that the United States is dumping "American gang members" on the streets of Cambodia.

The integration of these deportees has been mixed. Some have completely integrated into Cambodian society, but most tend to live near each other and socialize with one another. Currently,[when?] several deportees set up and work for a local harm reeducation organization, Korsang, providing help for drug addicts.

Korsang has received a lot of attention from the local media as well as international support from leading organizations for its ground-breaking work.[4] They hire Cambodian deportees who go through the neighborhoods and streets in order to talk to drug users. They give out condoms and tell drug addicts about the danger of spreading HIV through sharing needles for heroin use and offer them help in cutting down or quitting their addiction.

Organizations related to exiled Khmer Americans[edit]

Returnee Integration Support Center A support center in Phnom Penh started in 2002 to help deportees obtain documents, housing, jobs, and drug treatment.

Tiny Toones A break-dancing troop for poor urban Cambodian children set up by Tuy Sobil, a Khmer-American exile who goes by the name "KK". Sobil grew up in Long Beach, California, where he was exposed to b-boying and danced for four years after seeing it at the parks. He became involved in gang activity which caused him to be deported to Cambodia in 2004.[5] The organization was founded after nine young kids learned that he used to b-boy when he was younger and asked him to teach them.

He rejected their request the first couple of times, because he did not think he could start dancing again after quitting so long ago. He gave in the third time that they asked him, and began dance classes from his small flat. He also started hosting b-boy battles in the park on Sundays, where crowds of hundreds passers-by and children would gather to see kid dance crews from different neighborhoods compete just for respect. The popularity of b-boying and Tiny Toones grew tremendously from there, and people have recognized their talent and hired them for performances. KK's home serves as the local teen community center where the staff encourages the kids to stay in school and away from drugs and gangs.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Cambodian-Americans confronting deportation". Boston Globe. 2013-01-27. Retrieved 2014-05-10. 
  2. ^ Mintier, Tom (2002-11-19). "One-way ticket for convicted Cambodians". CNN. Retrieved 2006-10-03. 
  3. ^ a b Schwartzapfel, Beth (2005-05-14). "Fighting to Stay". AlterNet. Retrieved 2006-10-03. 
  4. ^ a b Montlake, Simon (2003-02-11). "Cambodians deported home". BBC. Retrieved 2006-10-03. 
  5. ^ Fenn, Mark (2007-07-09). "A second chance in Cambodia". Asia Sentinel. Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  6. ^ Cambodian Son. Studio Revolt. 2014. Event occurs at 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-27. 

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