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The U.S. is Quietly Detaining and Deporting Our Cambodian and Vietnamese Neighbors

Cambodian Advocacy Collaborative speaks out against ICE in Long Beach. Photo courtesy the Collaborative

By Sandra De Anda

Most of the migrant caravan Central Americans have been admitted into the United States to apply for asylum. While they await what comes next, refugees already in the country from Vietnam and Cambodia are quietly being sent back. Orange County is home to both populations. We frequent local Cambodian doughnut shops on our way to work in the morning. Banh Mi Che Cali fills our bellies during lunch breaks where mostly Vietnamese women bustle in the kitchen. Refugees fled the aftermaths of the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge to be here.

And now both are being deported. A few weeks ago, I came across a [1]HuffPo [1] article that charted the largest deportation of Cambodians ever [1]. The Khmer Vulnerability Aid Organization, which helps resettle those deported from the U.S., “expects around 200 people to arrive this year.” The article was correct in saying it was one of the quietest operations because even among fellow immigrant rights organizers it wasn’t common knowledge. Maybe this is because immigration issues are dominated by Latinx narratives.

Other quiet operations include the detention of Vietnamese refugees who came to the U.S. before July 12, 1995 and can’t be removed under a longstanding agreement with Vietnam. In media, Asian Americans are seen as the model minority and portrayed as being capable of pulling themselves by their bootstraps. News reports of Cambodian deportations and Vietnamese refugee detentions don’t fit squarely with popular narratives. According to a 2017 Orange County Immigration Report, “Asia accounts for 45.2 percent of OC’s foreign-born population,” and that “Latin America accounts for 44.8 percent of OC foreign-born population.” Given that parity, more Asian immigration issues here deserve more coverage.

The same report on OC immigration also notes that, “nearly 9 out of every 10 foreign born persons from Cambodia (87.6 percent) are naturalized and just over 8 out of every 10 foreign-born persons from Vietnam (83.3 percent) are naturalized.” They are doing everything “correctly” trying to attain the “American Dream,” but it matters not to spiteful gabachos who support the Trump Administration’s immigration policies.

In light of OC’s recent anti-sanctuary state revolt, with cities including Costa Mesa and Los Alamitos voting to oppose SB 54, we need to continue pushing local city officials and mobilizing individuals to put compassionate common sense back into immigration policies that change so frequently and senselessly. We also need to continue highlighting the stories that the local and national media fail to overlook and fail to report.

For those in need of immediate help, Santa Ana’s Cambodian Family and Asian-Americans Advancing Justice in Los Angeles are solid places to begin.