Human Rights: October 2010 Archives
Survivors of the Cambodian genocide who came to the U.S. as child refugees are now being deported by the Obama administration for crimes committed in the U.S. years ago. These refugees are longtime permanent residents who have reintegrated into their Philadelphia communities after release from prison. Many have U.S. citizen wives and children. Some have started small businesses. The Obama administration has the discretion to exercise lenience in cases of compelling humanitarian or family interest like these, but is more interested in appearing tough on immigration ahead of the elections.
A group of the refugees' family members and supporters confronted President Obama on his visit to northwest Philadelphia on Sunday, spelling out the message "STOP DEPORTING REFUGEES" to his motorcade as it passed by on the way to a rally in support of Democratic candidates in Pennsylvania.
Holly Otterbein recently wrote in the Philadelphia City Paper about the deportations that are tearing the city's Cambodian community apart. These deportations stem from a bipartisan law passed in 1996, the most anti-immigrant federal legislation since Congress slammed shut the doors to Ellis Island in 1924 in a fit of anti-Semitic, anti-Italian panic. Otterbein writes:
[I]n 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility [IIRIRA] and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty acts, which made deportation mandatory for any immigrant who commits an "aggravated felony," an opaque term that includes everything from non-violent drug offenses to tax evasion. (Prior to '96, refugees and other legal immigrants were deportable only if they committed a crime with a sentence of five years or more.) The laws also rendered non-citizen immigrants ineligible for both forgiveness and individual consideration before the court, effectively disintegrating their right to due process.
But these Cambodian refugees have been living in the community for years now--one of the men profiled in the article, Mout Iv, finished his prison sentence in 2004 and has since opened a popular barbershop in North Philly. The government has not yet explained to the community why now is the time to deport these refugees back to the country where their families were murdered, leaving advocates to speculate about the Obama administration's motives.