Rallying around refugees

Capitol rally demands ICE stop targeting survivors of the Vietnam War

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the January 31, 2019, issue.

Sacramentans rallied outside a federal courthouse on January 24 to protest the deportations of refugees who arrived in the wake of the Vietnam War.

The demonstration was organized by Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the Asian Prisoner Support Committee and Viet-Unity South Bay to raise awareness of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security decision to target Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants. Since 2016, DHS has exploited a 17-year-old renegotiated treaty with Cambodia in a way that’s allowed it to deport hundreds of refugees from the Khmer Rouge genocide, many of whom were arrested in their youth or had minor run-ins with the law.

According to a recent lawsuit filed by Asian Americans Advancing Justice, DHS began attempting to renegotiate a similar treaty with Vietnam, while at the same time issuing orders of removal for dozens of Vietnamese immigrants being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. If amended, the treaty will allow ICE to deport refugees who came to the United States after 1995. (“The Fall of Sympathy,” News, December 20, 2018).

Some who gathered January 24 outside the Third District Court of Appeal also protested a December decision by the California Supreme Court to block outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown from pardoning a 37-year Cambodian man who killed a woman when he was 14 and now faces deportation. Demonstrators carried a 40-foot dragon banner through Capitol Mall to the steps of the state Capitol, urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to keep pushing for clemency.

For Ben Wang, co-director of Asian Prisoner Support Committee, the event was about helping people understand a complicated picture.

“A lot of the folks we work with are people who committed their crimes when they were juveniles—in some cases 14 and 15—but were charged as adults,” Wang said. “Then, after they serve a 20-year prison sentence, they’re paroled and immediately transferred to ICE detention and ordered for deportation.”

Wang added that last week’s event was timed to follow Martin Luther King Day.

“I think it was really touching upon King’s ‘Beyond Vietnam’ speech, which highlighted the evils of militarization,” Wang said.

One local group that took part was Hmong Innovating Politics. Cha Vang, a HIP organizer, said that the Hmong community understands the challenges all refugees fleeing the fallout from the Vietnam War have faced over the years. This includes neighborhoods suffering from decades of poverty and disinvestment, which makes young people more susceptible to getting pulled into the criminal justice system—and later vulnerable to deportation.

“We understand that our stories are very similar and that the fates of our communities are intertwined,” Vang said. “This isn’t just about what’s happening to Cambodians and Vietnamese, it’s an attack on Southeast Asians as a whole.”