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Vithea Yung, a Disabled Cambodian Refugee, Released to Care of Loved Ones after Earning Parole

April 14, 2022 News

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Vithea Yung, a Disabled Cambodian Refugee, Released to Care of Loved Ones after Earning Parole

Grassroots pressure stopped transfer of Yung to ICE, but thousands of community members still face “double punishment”

Community groups urge passage of VISION Act to stop prison-to-deportation pipeline

LOS ANGELES – Today, Vithea Yung’s family and supporters are celebrating a rare victory: rather than being turned over to ICE after earning release from state prison, Yung was instead released to the care of his family. Hours ago, Yung’s sister and other loved ones welcomed him at a care facility in the Los Angeles area.

Yung, a Cambodian refugee with paraplegia, had faced imminent transfer to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) despite completing his sentence and earning parole from state prison. After an outpouring of community support, ICE announced it had dropped its hold on Vithea, making his case a rare exception. Public records show that between January 1, 2020 and Nov 30, 2021, the state’s prison system transferred 2,600 community members to ICE who had earned release from custody.

Vithea and his family members are now urging state leaders to pass the VISION Act (AB 937), which would ensure that community members who earn release from state prisons and jails are reunited with their families and communities, instead of being transferred to ICE for detention and deportation.

“My family and I owe much gratitude for the community's support to help me not get transferred to ICE,” said Vithea Yung. “I felt hopeless, but the community came together to fight for me and counter the unjustness of the law. As systematically impacted, my loved ones and I are very grateful that the community’s support saved me from double punishment.”

“APSC, ALC, and the community have greatly added to our family’s treasures circle,” said Terry Honore, sister of Vithea Yung. “Their support of labor, love, and legal advice has been magnificent to our family. We are indebted to continue campaigning for the VISION Act to stop ICE transfers and halt this awful experience. We hope to see all families have the same outcome and get a chance to battle anything.”

Vithea Yung is one of many community members who have faced a transfer to ICE after serving their time in state prison. Shortly after Vithea was born, he and his family fled the Cambodian genocide. Since the age of 4, Vithea has only known the United States as his home. Vithea served over 25 years in prison and was approved for release by the state’s parole board. In 2016, while incarcerated, Vithea was seriously injured, causing him to become permanently paralyzed in all four of his limbs.

“We are super grateful for Vithea’s release. However, California cannot wait to stop the inhumane practices of double punishment of our immigrant and refugee communities,” said Nate Tan, Co-Director of the Asian Prisoner Support Committee (APSC). “APSC serves hundreds of incarcerated refugees and immigrants. Their successful reentry is attributed to them coming home to their families and communities. We call on Governor Newsom and LA Senators to end ICE transfers in California. With the VISION Act, our communities become safer and more whole.”

"We have been calling for Vithea to be returned to his family and community in Los Angeles, and we are grateful those calls have finally been answered,” said Sarah Lee, a Community Advocate at Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus. “Vithea's experience with the prison system and ICE reflects the inhumanity and tragedy of California's voluntary ICE transfer policy--and the strength and love of advocates and community. We need Los Angeles Senators, like Senator Hertzberg, to support the VISION Act because community members in his district, including Vithea, who earn release risk being transferred to ICE.”

Vithea’s release comes as the state Senate prepares to vote on the VISION Act. Last year, the VISION Act passed the State Assembly and two committees in the Senate. In September 2021, this priority immigrant rights legislation was poised to pass the Senate with strong support from many Democratic State Senators, but the legislation did not get a floor vote and is currently pending on the Senate Floor. As a result, it was turned into a 2-year bill.

A group of family and community members stand around Vithea Yung holding signs welcoming him home form state prison

Credits: Nathan Cheung, California Immigrant Policy Center

Background on ICE Transfers and the VISION Act (AB 937)

The VISION Act would ensure that once a person has earned their release from state prison or local jail, they are not transferred to abusive and possibly deadly ICE detention, and instead are able to return to their loved ones and rebuild their lives. This includes a person who has completed their sentence, been granted parole, had charges dropped, or been granted release by a judge. A poll conducted by UC San Diego’s US Immigration Policy Center in 2021 found a strong majority of California voters support the bill and the principles that undergird it.

Community members who have experienced the pain of ICE transfers first hand have led efforts across the state to advance the VISION Act. The VISION Act is co-sponsored by 25 state legislators, and has won the backing of the LA Board of Supervisors and District Attorney’s Office. It is also supported by the California Democratic Party, Black Legislative Caucus, Latino Legislative Caucus, and the API Legislative Caucus; over 180 organizations; Black Lives Matter-California; the Law Enforcement Action Partnership; and several key labor unions and federations, along with numerous Jewish organizations and Rabbis.

People in prison and detention are disproportionately Black and Brown due to structural racism and are often survivors of abuse. Meanwhile, while only 7% of non-citizens in the U.S. are Black, Black immigrants made up 20% of people facing deportation on criminal grounds in the U.S. in 2016. At least eight counties in California have already ended the unjust practice of transferring immigrant community members to ICE, as have Illinois, Oregon, and Washington, D.C.