Immigration authorities have released a Cambodian refugee living in Minnesota after they prepared to deport him to the Southeast Asian country.
Ched Nin was released last Friday after being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for six months, according to a statement published Wednesday by the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center.
Nin, who came to the United States from Thailand in 1986 at the age of 6, grew up as a legal U.S. resident with a green card. He has not yet obtained U.S. citizenship.
The 37-year-old father of five was arrested in late August after a routine ICE sweep of ethnic Cambodians, according to Katrina Dizon Mariategue, immigration policy manager for the action center.
“It’s a testament to how tough our current immigration laws and policies are and how unjust and biased the current system is against some of the most vulnerable communities,” Mariategue told HuffPost on Friday.
Mariategue, who helped organize advocacy around his case said that Nin served two years in prison after pleading guilty in 2010 to shooting a BB gun at the back of a vehicle. He was charged with second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon.
Mariategue said a concerted effort that involved asking congressional members to pressure Department of Homeland Security helped make the case for Nin to stand before an immigration judge. Jenny Srey, Nin’s wife, led the organizing.
“While we celebrate Ched’s release, it hurts to see so many other refugee families suffering."”
“Community advocacy played a huge role in convincing the court to re-open his case,” Mariategue told HuffPost.
The DHS did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Nin was born in a Thai refugee camp after his parents fled the Khmer Rouge, or Communist party, genocide of 1979 in Cambodia. He is part of the “Minnesota 8” — a group of eight Cambodian-American refugees living in the state all facing deportation.
Nin does carpentry work and has two sons and three daughters, one of whom has a congenital heart condition and depends on his health insurance. He is also the primary caretaker for his elderly mother and father, who is immobile.
Though Nin had already served his prison time, a 1996 federal law known as the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act makes it easier to deport immigrants with criminal records, even if they have green cards. Deportable crimes include a host of aggravated felonies such as writing a bad check.
Among the reasons for Nin’s release was the fact his absence would cause his family hardship and the fact he is married to a U.S. citizen, said Paromita Shah, Associate Director of the National Immigration Project.
Shah, whose organization helped consult on the legal interventions for Nin’s case, told The Huffington Post that the 1996 law doesn’t leave much wiggle room for individual cases.
“He was put into deportation because of the harsh provisions of the 1996 laws which, in many cases, preclude lawful permanent residents from getting a hearing before an immigration judge if they have certain types of criminal convictions,” Shah said. “This means evidence demonstrating his history as a homeowner, his employment as a high-skilled construction worker, his loving family and his connections to his community would never even come into court.”
Mariategue pointed out that Nin was lucky the court was convinced enough to re-open his case and stated that the DHS under President Donald Trump will not be as forgiving. Trump rescinded a 2014 DHS memorandum under the Obama administration, which focused on deporting immigrants with a criminal record but made the case for individuals who had shown rehabilitation efforts.
She says that means immigrants will need even greater resources down the road.
“While we celebrate Ched’s release, it hurts to see so many other refugee families suffering. We’ll continue to fight on a systemic level for policies that recognize rehabilitation, second chances, and the sanctity of family,” the action center said in a statement.