Ellee Pai Hong: Since 1975, over 1 million refugees from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam have been resettled in the US making Southeast Asian Americans, the largest refugee community in US history. Hello, and welcome to Comcast Newsmakers. I'm Ellee Pai Hong. Today more than 2.7 million Southeast Asian Americans live in the United States. Joining me to discuss the impact of immigrant deportation policy on this population is Quyen Dinh. She's Executive Director of the South East Asia Resource Action Center. Quyen, thanks so much for coming in.
Quyen Dinh: Thank you for having me.
Ellee Pai Hong: Appreciate your time. Little known fact since 1998, some 16,000 Southeast Asian Americans have been deported, and these were Americans who had their legal documents, they had their Green Cards, yet they were still deported.
Quyen Dinh: Absolutely. And oftentimes what people find astonishing is the fact that many of the 16,000 came to the US as refugees, meaning they were accepted into our country, being accepted as refugees fleeing the countries of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. And when you look at the 16,000, many of them came to this country as very young children from the families of refugees, or they were actually born in refugee camps, not knowing their countries that they fled at all only knowing America as their home. And that is the type of impact that we're having on the 16,000 individuals and their families.
Ellee Pai Hong: Separated from the only family they've ever known.
Quyen Dinh: Absolutely.
Ellee Pai Hong: And dropped into a brand new country that they've never known.
Quyen Dinh: Yes. And many of the situations that we hear about within the 16,000 are stories about past criminal conviction records that they did commit when they came to the US as young people, as babies growing up in very broken communities, without the support they needed either at home at school or within their communities, to really find a place to call home. And unfortunately, they committed crimes that we have seen as crimes of youth, crimes of poverty, everything as small as possession of drugs to breaking a couple of windows in a bar. And yet even though they have served these sentences and have transformed their lives, they continue to live their lives in limbo with these deportation orders looming over their heads.
Ellee Pai Hong: And the fear still looms and this all started because back in 1996 the Immigration Law was broadened ... Broadened the scope of criminal convictions to include anything from simple possession, all the way to murder, and it took away judicial discretion, so that you couldn't make a decision based on the individual.
Quyen Dinh: Absolutely and those changes are what we have seen that have led to the escalation of the 16,000 and what has been interesting is that the policy has not caught up to our criminal justice reform conversations. In states like California possession of drugs is no longer considered an aggravated felony or a crime. And yet for these individuals they still continue to have to live that historical legacy where they have already served and have transformed from these mistakes. And yet this is the law from the land that continues to haunt them and their families.
Ellee Pai Hong: Because once they commit that crime, serve their sentence, they have to do check ins, so called check ins every six months. You don't know when you check in that you might get deported.
Quyen Dinh: Absolutely. And as you said, we've seen this happening since 1998. So this has been going on for over 20 years. And for a lot of these families, the check in is just a regular check in. And oftentimes, they don't get called in for a long, long time, leading them to start families, to have kids, to restart their lives. And now those families are also in limbo, not knowing if one day our laws are going to change and that they too will be deported.
Ellee Pai Hong: And Southeast Asian Americans are three to five times more likely to be deported based on an old conviction. That is a startling statistic and a scary one.
Quyen Dinh: It really is. So when you look at the 16,000 what we know is that over 80% of those individuals have deportation orders for past convictions that they have already served many of them decades ago.
Ellee Pai Hong: That's because many of these refugees get resettled in high poverty area. So it's the challenges that they face, they're in a marginalized community already. So the school to prison pipeline already exists, and they just get plugged into it.
Quyen Dinh: Right. And for us what we have seen is an expansion of that pipeline to be the school to prison to the production pipeline. And I think what is really troubling is also that these individuals don't just represent those 16,000, but they represent the young people, the children of these individuals, partners who become single mothers overnight, parents who are being cared for by these individuals. And so the impact is much larger than even that 16,000 itself.
Ellee Pai Hong: Wow! For more information, where can folks go?
Quyen Dinh: People can definitely check out our website at www.searac.org. Follow us on Facebook and on Twitter and really join us in this fight to really protect our families.
Ellee Pai Hong: Awesome. Thank you so much for your time Quyen.
Quyen Dinh: Thank you so much for having us here.
Ellee Pai Hong: And thanks to you for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your area and across the nation. Visit comcasnewsmakers.com. I'm Ellee Pai Hong