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US’ Cambodian community warned of ‘arrests’

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ICE officials place Cambodian nationals onto an ICE Air Operations flight from Dallas, Texas to Cambodia in July. ICE

US’ Cambodian community warned of ‘arrests’

A legal aid and civil rights group has alerted the Cambodian community in the US that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is gearing up to make a further round of arrests, with those detained possibly facing deportation.

The Asian Law Caucus: Asian Americans Advancing Justice, which is based in San Francisco, California, said the arrests would come in the next two weeks.

It told members of the Cambodian community to contact them for legal assistance if they had been given deportation orders or were asked to check in with ICE.

“If you are going to check-in, bring someone with you. Give them your keys, wallet and phone before you go in. Write down or memorise important phone numbers. If you don’t come out, have them call us right away,” Asian Americans Advancing Justice said.

The organisation said ICE officials could use unmarked cars to apprehend targets or knock on their doors. Agents would sometimes wait to arrest them after they had finished work.

“Even though these are anxious times, know that the community has your back. It is possible to fight deportation,” Asian Americans Advancing Justice said.

Thirty-seven Cambodians were deported from Dallas, Texas in July.

ICE said at the time that removals of Cambodian-Americans to the Kingdom had increased 279 per cent from 2017 to 2018.

It said there were still around 1,900 Cambodian nationals in the US with a final order of removal, with 1,400 of them convicted criminals.

Ministry of Justice spokesperson Chin Malin said the repatriation of Cambodians from the US was done based on an agreement between the US and Cambodia, as well as on US law and rulings by its courts.

However, he said the forced deportation of Cambodian-Americans from the US violated humanitarian principles and human rights, especially when those deported struggled to integrate themselves into a country that was new to them.

“Some of them were born in the US so they don’t speak Khmer, they don’t know Cambodian culture and have no family here. Deporting them is sending them to face further suffering in another place,” he said.

A state carrying out deportations should be responsible for supplying all the services needed to fully integrate those sent to live in a new society, he said.

Chak Sopheap, the executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said Cambodian-American deportees who had served prison sentences were being doubly punished by being sent to the Kingdom.

“When it comes to the deportation of Cambodian-Americans, their status as refugees must not be sidelined or ignored. The human rights of the refugee must be the first and overriding factor in determining their fate,” she said.

Emily Zeeberg, the spokesperson for the American embassy in Phnom Penh, said on Tuesday that the US believed that all states had an obligation under international law to accept the return of nationals who were not eligible to remain in the US or any other country.

The US routinely cooperates with foreign governments in documenting and accepting its citizens when requested, she said.

“The Cambodian government is responsible for the welfare of its nationals, including those removed from the US. However, the US embassy works with our Cambodian counterparts to encourage them to integrate returnees into Cambodian society as smoothly as possible,” she said.

Zeeberg said the US government funds limited reintegration services, such as orientation sessions on Cambodian culture and language, and supplying temporary housing for those who do not have relatives in the country.

It gave assistance in obtaining legal documentation, including ID cards, medical care and in finding employment. It also arranged networking opportunities and followed up with existing deportees, she said.

Neither Aarti Kohli, the executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, nor ICE press officer Britney Walker responded to requests for comment by The Post as of press time on Tuesday.

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