Kang Hen and Hay Hov came to the U.S. with their families as children and refugees fleeing genocide under the Khmer Rouge, according to advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus. Both men have been living in California for decades.
Hen had a state conviction for grand theft committed in 1994 when he was just past his 18th birthday. Hov was convicted in 2001 for soliciting to commit murder and participating in a street gang at age 19.
Hen was detained by the federal agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement last month and was set to be deported next month. Hov was arrested by ICE in March and released last week after a judge reinstated his green card, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
In explaining the decision to grant clemency in these two cases, the governor’s pardons noted that since their convictions, both men had been “living an upright life” and pointed to their “impending deportation and permanent separation from … family” as a “collateral consequence” of their convictions.
While a pardon doesn’t vacate a conviction, it does remove it from publicly available records, restore certain rights and remove some barriers to employment, housing, loans and other services, which can be impeded by having a criminal conviction on one’s record.
Pardons don’t stop deportation proceedings, but they forgive convictions that an immigration judge may be factoring in as they weigh their decision. Hov’s recent green card reinstatement also meant he was no longer at risk of deportation.
“We are deeply grateful to Governor Newsom for recognizing the plight of refugees who are being targeted by the Trump administration,” Asian Law Caucus executive director Aarti Kohli said in a release. “For many immigrant youth, a criminal conviction carries consequences for the rest of their lives including deportation.”
Last year, the Trump administration deported a record high number of Cambodians, with ICE removing a total of 110 individuals, compared to 29 the previous year. The deportations came in waves in April last year, in August and again in December. Like Hen and Hov, many of them were refugees.
After fleeing genocide in Cambodia, Hen’s family had resettled in San Jose, California, while Hov’s ended up in East Oakland. Hen has worked at a seafood business for over a decade, living with his partner Ruth ― who has been diagnosed with life-threatening heart and kidney failure ― and their 3-year-old child. Hov, a truck driver, has a 4-year-old son.
The Trump administration has a well-established record of anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric, and it has broadened the crackdown on illegal immigration, making all undocumented immigrants in the U.S. ― not just those with criminal histories ― targets for deportation.
Among the other people Newsom pardoned on Monday were a man convicted of marijuana possession in the 1990s, another convicted of driving under the influence around the same period, and a woman convicted of transporting or selling a controlled substance, also in the early 1990s.