Despite protests and a petition in the US, 10 Cambodians were to be deported this month, five of whom should arrive here today, government and NGO officials said yesterday.
Forty-nine other non-citizen Cambodian-Americans are pending deportation, although their return date has not been established, said Kloeung Aun, executive director of Returnee Integration Support Network, an organization that has assisted Cambodians deported from the US.
Major General Pin Piseth, director of the immigration department, said five deportees would arrive here today, although he declined to say when the other deportees would arrive, referring questions to National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith.
The men facing deportation have criminal convictions, which allows the US to send them to Cambodia, a country many of them left before they could forge memories of their homeland.
Laws passed in 1996 broadened the US government’s powers to deport resident foreigners for even minor criminal infractions, and a 2002 repatriation agreement with Cambodia allows the US to deport legal, permanent Cambodian-American residents who are not citizens.
Once here, however, the men are considered Cambodian citizens, can get passports and are allowed to travel abroad.
“We consider them Cambodian, not offenders at all,” Mr Chantharith said.
This latest round of deportations–the first since April, Mr Aun said–has sparked protests in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and a petition from a Boston-based group to keep the men in the US.
The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper reported Tuesday that a day earlier about 80 supporters protested against a 35-year-old Cambodian-American’s deportation. According to The Inquirer, the man served 12 years behind bars for two house robberies in 1995 and was expected to arrive here today.
Bill Herod, an RISC board member who helped start the Returnee Assistance Project in 2002, which later became RISC, said the deported Cambodian-Americans would face myriad difficulties once here, particularly in finding housing and employment and adapting to Cambodian culture.
Since 2002, the two organizations Mr Herod and Mr Aun have been involved with have helped 229 deportees transition to life in Cambodia.
“I’d say out of the …10 percent are doing well, 10 percent are in prison or on the streets…and the others have good days and bad,” Mr Herod said.