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Stopping ICE Transfers and Keeping Families Together

September 30, 2021 Perspective

Author

Anoop Prasad

Anoop Prasad

Senior Staff Attorney, Immigrant Rights

Anoop Prasad

Senior Staff Attorney, Immigrant Rights

Anoop Prasad is a staff attorney at Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus in the Immigrant Rights Program. He focuses on representation of low-income Asian Pacific Islander immigrants in deportation proceedings. In particular, his work focuses on the intersection of the immigration and mass incarceration in the criminal system. An area of particular focus has been protecting due process rights for unrepresented immigrant detainees with serious mental health issues.

Immigrants with criminal convictions are the most heavily targeted for deportation, yet are often left out of advocacy and policies to protect immigrants. At ALC, we center them in our work. Our Immigrant Rights team combines litigation and direct legal services with policy advocacy and community organizing to serve low-income immigrants facing detention and deportation, shift narratives about immigrant communities and incarcerated people, and challenge an unjust deportation system.

Southeast Asian refugee communities suffer exceptionally high rates of incarceration and deportation—a direct result of resettlement policies that placed them in impoverished and violent neighborhoods without resources to adjust to life in the United States or address their trauma from surviving genocide and war. Among them, the Cambodian community has been hit especially hard, with deportations increasing by 279 percent over the past two fiscal years, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the danger facing incarcerated immigrants and refugees. California state prisons have been the site of massive outbreaks, with three of the country’s largest COVID clusters located in California prisons. California’s voluntary collaboration with ICE has resulted in immigrants being transferred on their release date from prisons with COVID outbreaks to ICE detention centers, sparking outbreaks there as well.

We’ve been mobilizing to stop deportations, free people from incarceration, and shift narratives about incarcerated community members with directly impacted individuals and partners across the state.

Here’s how we’re standing with our communities:

Legal Work

We are leading two nationwide class action lawsuits, Chhoeun v. Marin and Trinh v. Homan, challenging the unlawful detention of Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees through waves of mass raids. We collaborated with Advancing Justice- Atlanta, our affiliate organization, in Trinh. The litigation has resulted in groundbreaking victories, including an injunction preventing ICE from ambushing Cambodian class members at home or work without warning, sometimes decades after their release from prison. We are continuing to defend our wins on appeal.

In response to the COVID pandemic, we won the release of medically vulnerable people from immigration detention through a series of habeas petitions.

Policy Change

In California, we advocate for Governor Newsom to stop deportations and reverse mass incarceration by exercising his clemency power. We are also calling on him to stop collaboration between the state prison system and ICE, and sponsoring the VISION Act which would end ICE transfers in the state. In 2018, we passed AB 2845, reforming the clemency process in California for the first time since 1943, and released a guide for immigrants applying for pardons of criminal convictions to protect them from deportation. Our advocacy has expanded clemency in California and across the country, particularly for Southeast Asian refugees. In June 2020, Ny Nourn, a formerly incarcerated staff member at the Asian Law Caucus, was granted a pardon by Governor Newsom, protecting her from deportation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the need for Governors to grant clemency and stop collaboration with ICE. Together with community partners, we have advocated for both through rallies, media, individual advocacy campaigns, and social media. We also launched the #FlattenICE and #FreeThemAll campaigns with weekly actions, calling on ICE to release medically vulnerable people and refugees in ICE detention across the country. The actions resulted in over a dozen people being released from ICE custody and helped raise awareness of the dangers of COVID in detention centers.

Community Advocacy

We are one of a few organizations providing legal consultations and representation to AAPI immigrants and refugees in prison and immigration detention. The vast majority of people facing deportation in detention are forced to represent themselves. We recently released a handbook of legal advice and resources for immigrants in prison facing deportation.

Deportation not only fundamentally impacts an individual’s life, but also their family in the United States, who may never see them again. Deported clients tell us they feel as if they are serving a sentence that never ends. People deported to Cambodia often arrive in a country they have never visited, where they do not speak the language and do not have any surviving family members. People deported previously have organized to provide reentry support to new arrivals and have begun advocating with the Cambodian government to amend a 2003 agreement with the United States to deport refugees.

We launched the “Right to Reunite” campaign to support people deported to Cambodia. In the past three years, four people deported to Cambodia have returned home. We have held legal workshops in Cambodia, online consultations, and advocated with District Attorneys and the Governor to vacate convictions and allow people to return home. Sok Khoeun Loeun returned to California after five years in Cambodia. Sok learned that he was a U.S. citizen who was mistakenly targeted for deportation after attending a workshop with ALC, organized by deportees in Phnom Penh. He returned to a community celebration and action at San Francisco International Airport in January 2020. In July 2020, Phorn Tem, the first person to return from Cambodia after deportation, became a U.S. citizen – a stunning achievement and reversal of injustice. We continue to advocate for more of our community members to come home.