September 20, 2022 IN: Immigration, National, Press Room
Southeast Asian American Organizations, Leaders, and Community Celebrate Deportation Relief Legislation
Washington, DC – Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), Southeast Asian Freedom Network (SEAFN), and Southeast Asian organizations from across the country gathered in front of the Capitol Building in strong support and celebration of the Southeast Asian Deportation Relief Act, introduced by US Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-CA, 47.
This historic federal bill would limit Southeast Asian deportations and provide further protections for the more than 15,000 Southeast Asian refugees who face deportation and are subject to ongoing trauma. The act:
- Limits DHS’ authority to deport Southeast Asian refugees from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam who arrived in the United States by 2008;
- Permanently authorizes employment eligibility for Southeast Asians with a final order of removal with a five-year renewal period; and
- Ends in-person ICE check-ins and establishes five-year intervals between virtual check-ins for Southeast Asians on order of supervision.
During the bill introduction, impacted community members emphasized the urgency of ending the United States’ detention and deportation policies to prevent others from enduring the injustice of double punishment.
“As a young child, my family and I fled the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia 40 years ago,” said Kab Pheng, Lead Organizer with Rhode Island Civic Engagement (RICE) program at Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), and impacted individual. “Today, this cycle of violence follows me, as I face the threat of deportation based on a mistake I made when I was barely an adult at the age of 17. This threat of deportation is like reliving the trauma of being a refugee. Every day, I live with the fear and anxiety of displacement and separation from my home. With the Southeast Asian Deportation Relief Act, I – as well as my Southeast Asian siblings who are in the same position – have the chance to really rebuild our lives and continue being with our families and our communities.”
“For me and many other Southeast Asians, deportation is an endless punishment that further destabilizes our families. In 2006 when I was 22 years old, I was arrested for a drug-related charge on the day I was scheduled to take my oath to become a citizen,” said Justin Nguyen, a refugee from Vietnam and impacted individual. “As a result, I served almost three years and was detained by ICE twice. Even though I have opened businesses, gotten married, and become a father since I was released, the threat of deportation looms over my head every day. With the Southeast Asian Deportation Relief Act, my family and our community can finally have the chance to recover from our trauma and fully heal.”
“It is inhumane and un-American to simply cast aside members of our communities and deport them to a place they do not know, and where their basic human rights are not guaranteed, and in many cases abused,” said Rep. Lowenthal. “We must uphold the solemn promises we made to these refugees.“
“More than 1.2 million Southeast Asian refugees settled in the U.S. after the Vietnam War. They all deserve safety and security,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Chair of the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. “The US government should not be deporting refugees to countries where they may face persecution or human rights abuses. The Southeast Asian Deportation Relief Act of 2022 will keep our promises to Southeast Asian refugees and protect them from removal.”
“We must restore the humanity to our immigration system and turn away from mandatory deportations that do not take into account an individual’s full circumstances,” said Rep. Judy Chu. “The Southeast Asian Deportation Relief Act of 2022 will prevent deportations of Southeast Asian refugees and ensure access to work permits for men and women with deep roots in their communities who have lived in the United States for decades as lawful permanent residents.”
“Welcoming doesn’t end at opening the door. We need to invest in resources to help people integrate so they are thriving, not just surviving. The Southeast Asian Deportation Relief Act would bring immediate relief to Southeast Asian Americans who live in daily fear of deportation. It would allow Southeast Asian Americans across the country to be able to thrive, and to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve,” said Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. “I’m proud to help introduce this bill, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to end the inhumane targeting of Southeast Asian refugees and to fix our broken laws and policies that hurt our communities.”
“We should not be deporting vulnerable community members from their homes to countries where their basic human rights and safety would be threatened—and our Southeast Asian immigrant neighbors are no exception,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley. “I’m proud to join Congressman Lowenthal and our colleagues on this important legislation to halt these unjust deportations and keep our promises to the community.”
Nancy Nguyen, National Campaign Director for the Southeast Asian Freedom Network (SEAFN) said, “After decades of endless displacement and separation, today marks a historic moment for our community: the possibility of systematically ending Southeast Asian deportations. During the two past decades, the Southeast Asian community has experienced the cruel and brutal pain of being ripped apart, with tens of thousands of our people facing the threat of removal to countries our people fled for survival. During the past two decades, our community has also banded together to support, love, and protect each other, culminating in the Southeast Asian Deportation Relief Act. Now that this historic legislation is introduced, we will continue fighting to make sure it passes so that our community can finally live with safety and dignity.”
“Today’s introduction of the Southeast Asian Deportation Relief Act is a testament to decades of resilient community organizing and advocacy,” said Quyen Dinh, Executive Director of SEARAC. “We thank the leadership of co-leads Rep. Alan Lowenthal, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Rep. Judy Chu, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and we are also appreciative of Rep. Rashida Tlaib demonstrating her support at the press conference. We urge others in Congress to join in support of this monumental legislation so that Southeast Asian American refugee families can finally heal from the trauma of continued displacement via detention and deportation.”
ABOUT SOUTHEAST ASIAN FREEDOM NETWORK (SEAFN)
Southeast Asian Freedom Network (SEAFN) was originally formed in 2001 to create a united front against the deportation crisis of criminalized refugees in Cambodian communities across the US. Chhaya Chhoum of Bronx, NY (now Executive Director of Mekong NYC), put out a national call to community organizers to solidify a national Southeast Asian grassroots movement, defend communities from deportation, and move the collective work out of isolation. After two decades, SEAFN has evolved into a national movement family of anti-deportation projects and local organizations dedicated to the mobilization of Southeast Asians towards abolition.
SEAFN organizes a core network of seven Southeast Asian-led organizations across the country, including: Mekong NYC (NY); Freedom, Inc. (WI); MN8 (MN); ManForward (national); KhAAG (WA); VietLead (PA/NJ); Providence Youth Student Movement (RI).
ABOUT SOUTHEAST ASIA RESOURCE ACTION CENTER (SEARAC)
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) is a national civil rights organization that empowers Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese American communities to create a socially just and equitable society. As representatives of the largest refugee community ever resettled in the United States, SEARAC stands together with other refugee communities, communities of color, and social justice movements in pursuit of social equity. Find out more at www.searac.org.