The congressional Asian-American caucus is demanding an end to the detention and deportation of Southeast Asian immigrants who came to the U.S. as refugees.
More than 50 members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, led by chairwoman Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), detailed their concerns in a letter sent to Department of Homeland Security secretary Kirsten Nielsen this week.
“In recent years, we have seen a spike in the arbitrary detention and removal of lawful permanent residents who came to the United States as refugees fleeing the violence and genocide from the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge genocide,” the letter read. “We urge you to cease detentions and deportations of refugees from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.”
In the letter, the caucus members explained that the sanctions slapped on Cambodia and Laos to pressure the governments to repatriate more nationals has prompted fears. Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia are included in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) list of “recalcitrant” countries, as their governments routinely refuse to issue the travel documents required for the U.S. to carry out deportations.
However last year, the U.S. prevented high-ranking Cambodian officials and their families from traveling to the U.S. after the country temporarily suspended repatriations following protests and uproar from the Cambodian-American community. The sanctions, which remain in effect, pushed Cambodia to once again accept deportees. This year saw the most deportations of Cambodian immigrants in U.S. history.
“We have seen a spike in the arbitrary detention and removal of lawful permanent residents who came to the United States as refugees fleeing the violence and genocide from the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge genocide.”
In July, the Department of Homeland Security announced that they would issue visa sanctions on Laos because of “lack of cooperation” on deportations. It accused the country delaying or denying the return of nationals who’d been deported.
The caucus also indicated that the recent meeting between the Trump administration and the Vietnamese government was cause for concern. The Trump administration said last week that it had met with Vietnamese officials to “discuss our respective positions relative to Vietnamese citizens who are now subject to final orders of removal.”
Currently, a 2008 memorandum of understanding between the countries dictates the individuals who are eligible for deportation. Vietnamese immigrants who arrived in the U.S. prior to July 12, 1995, are currently not eligible for deportation, but many fear the conversations between the administrations will prompt a change in policy and a renegotiation of the memorandum.
While many of these immigrants received orders of removal after coming into contact with the criminal justice system, most of them have long turned their lives around and have established families, the letter said. Many of this generation only recognize the U.S. as their home and some “have never set foot in the countries to which ICE is trying to remove them,” the caucus members added.
“Upon arrival into the United States, many were resettled into struggling neighborhoods. Still coping with significant trauma from the war, some of these refugees made mistakes as teenagers and young adults and were funneled into the criminal justice system,” the letter explained. “All of them served their time, and the majority transformed their lives to become productive community members, business owners, and loving parents supporting their U.S citizen families.”
The Asian caucus requested a briefing on the discussions with Vietnam, with a focus on the topic of repatriations.
“It is troubling to see Southeast Asian American families being targeted at unprecedented levels. We urge you to reexamine policies on the arbitrary detention and deportation of Southeast Asian Americans who prove no threat to public safety, are interwoven into our communities, and support U.S. citizen families,” the letter read. “We urge you to use prosecutorial discretion to ensure that our finite resources are not being wasted to tear families apart and deport individuals who have transformed their lives after serving their sentences.”