Phorn Tem said he never thought he’d come back to the United States after he was deported to Cambodia in April 2018.
Seven months later, he became the first Cambodian deportee to return to the country. And on June 24, he became the first Cambodian returnee to become a U.S. citizen, emerging as a symbol of hope to his community.
“When Phorn got his citizenship, it was really exciting for us,” Nate Tan, co-director of the Asian Prisoner Support Committee, an organization involved in a campaign to allow Cambodian deportees to reunite with their families, told NBC News. “There’s this belief that once you get deported, that’s the final sentence of your life and there’s no chance of returning to a life back here, let alone a life with citizenship.”