NEW: Our photo series, #HomeNotHeartbreak tells the stories of families impacted by the prison-to-deportation pipeline. They share with us their experiences, hopes, joy, and why CA urgently needs the #VISIONAct.

Vietnamese Refugee Phi Pham Released from ICE Detention

November 8, 2021 News

Media Contacts:

Lande Watson,, 415-212-8588

Hien Nguyen,, 510-375-6459

Vietnamese Refugee Phi Pham Released from ICE Detention

Formerly Incarcerated Firefighter Welcomed Home by Family and Community Members

Governor Newsom Faces Mounting Calls to Pardon Immigrant Californians and End Prison-to-ICE Pipeline

SAN FRANCISCO (November 8, 2021) — Formerly incarcerated firefighter and Vietnamese refugee Phi Pham was welcomed home today at the Oakland Airport by his family, community, and California Assemblymembers, five months after the state prison system transferred him to ICE detention in Colorado. Phi’s release follows news last month that Ricardo Vasquez Crus, the last person in ICE detention at Yuba County Jail, was released after more than three years of incarceration. Formerly incarcerated Californians like Phi and Ricardo are leaders in a growing statewide movement calling on Governor Newsom to grant pardons, end the voluntary policy of transferring people to ICE, and build a just immigration system that keeps families together and safe.

“This summer, I walked out of Folsom State Prison after serving my time and protecting the local community from fires. I should have walked into the arms of my family, but ICE was there waiting. Agents sent me to a Colorado detention facility notorious for inhumane conditions. Today, I can finally hug my family and friends. We kept fighting for my freedom and future because we want this country to live up to its ideals – as a place that keeps families together and treats us the same, no matter where we were born,” said Phi Pham.

Earlier this year, the San Francisco Chronicle detailed Phi’s story in a front-page story. While incarcerated, Phi completed anger management courses, joined victim impact groups, obtained a college degree, enrolled in business school, and underwent the lengthy process of training and serving as a volunteer firefighter. He was deemed eligible for release after serving nine years. Countless community members urged ICE to release Phi and continue to call on Governor Newsom to pardon him immediately and stop the painful practice of transferring community members who have earned release from prison or jail to ICE for deportation.

“The transfer of Phi Pham over to ICE is part of a huge injustice that immigrants and refugees in the prison system face. His release from ICE serves as an important reminder that the battle for freedom does not end after someone is released from prison, but when they are released and relieved of further punishment. Phi Pham is one of many stories of immigrants and refugees enduring an extra layer of punishment after being found rehabilitated. Like formerly incarcerated firefighters Bounchan Keola, and Kao Saelee who received a pardon from Governor Newsom, Governor Newsom must protect all immigrants and refugees that face the threat of deportation. That begins with granting a pardon to Phi Pham and others in similar circumstances,” said Nate Tan, co-director of Asian Prisoner Support Committee in Oakland.

In January, the state legislature will consider the VISION Act (AB 937-Carrillo), which would stop the double punishment of immigrant community members based solely on where they were born. In an op-ed with Assemblymember Carrillo this fall, Phi wrote, “If the VISION Act was the law back in June, I would be working right now to become a professional firefighter to protect our state.”

“With one signature, Governor Newsom can pardon Phi Pham, end the cycle of trauma and pain his family has endured, and grow our firefighting ranks,” said Anoop Prasad, Phi Pham’s lawyer and senior staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus. “In his September victory speech, Governor Newsom said Californians were saying yes to diversity, to inclusion, and to racial justice. Now, it’s time he fulfills that mandate, undos decades of anti-immigrant and anti-Black policies, and pledges support for the VISION Act.”

Over the past decade, Asian Law Caucus and Asian Prisoner Support Committee have joined with immigrant rights, criminal justice, and faith-based organizations through the ICE out of CA statewide coalition to end the prison to ICE deportation pipeline and bring formerly incarcerated people like Phi Pham back to their loved ones and communities. In the last year, ALC and our partners have celebrated the release of Kao Saelee, Chanthon Bun (who has since become ALC’s Yuri Kochiyama Fellow), Nayeli Pena, and Bounchan Keola (another formerly incarcerated firefighter) while continuing to advocate for the VISION Act.

The VISION Act has won support from the California’s Democratic Party, the Black Legislative Caucus, Latino Legislative Caucus, and the API Legislative Caucus; over 180 organizations; Black Lives Matter-California, several key labor unions and federations, along with numerous Jewish organizations and Rabbis. Several city and county governments are backing the bill, as are District Attorneys of Los Angeles and San Francisco Counties. The Alliance for Boys and Men of Color estimates that transfers to ICE of people eligible for release from local jails alone cost $7.3 million in 2018 to 2019.

About Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus (ALC)

ALC was founded in 1972 as the nation’s first legal and civil rights Asian American organization. Recognizing that social, economic, political and racial inequalities continue to exist in the United States, ALC is committed to the pursuit of equality and justice for all sectors of our society, with a specific focus directed toward addressing the needs of low-income, immigrant and underserved Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

About Asian Prisoner Support Committee (APSC)

APSC is a community based organization in Oakland founded in 2002.For over a decade, APSC operated as an all-volunteer organization. In 2017, APSC hired its first paid staff employees and opened an office space in Oakland Chinatown. Today, APSC conducts correspondence programs in prisons, provides community-based reentry services, and organizes deportation defense campaigns. Our mission is to provide direct support to Asian and Pacific Islander (API) prisoners and to raise awareness about the growing number of APIs being imprisoned, detained and deported.