“In our system, a person can make a mistake. They can pay their debts to society and move on and build a new future. They should not be … deported to a society where they no longer belong and may not even remember,” Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California said during a press conference. “It is profoundly wrong for us to send refugees where their human rights are not protected and guaranteed.”
According to NBC News, of the 15,000 refugees said to be impacted, about 80% were previously convicted of a crime and face deportation risk despite completing their sentences.
“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, according to SEARAC.
“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.”
If passed, the legislation would prevent the Department of Homeland Security from detaining or deporting Southeast Asian refugees who arrived in the U.S. prior to 2008. According to advocates, it would also put an end to in-person check-ins with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and authorize permanent employment eligibility for those with final orders of removal.
Advocates noted that ICE check-ins are often sporadic, creating panic in communities that people will be separated from families. This bill will ease that worry.
“The fear and the trauma that comes with in-person check-ins means that you leave your home, you leave your family, you drop off your kids not knowing if you’re going to be detained,” Dinh said. “And from that moment, your family has to have a rapid response backup plan in case you are detained.”
Dinh also noted that most refugees are placed in areas that not only lack support and infrastructure, but lack opportunities. As a result, poverty and trauma from war and genocide continue.
According to NBC, an example is the Hmong community, which fled primarily from Laos. At this time, the community faces the worst disparities in terms of income compared to all other racial groups. NBC News reported that about 60% are considered low income and a quarter live in poverty.
“It led them to crimes of poverty and youth and survival that they have served decades ago. And that still threatens their lives every single day through these deportation orders to countries that they fled as refugees,” Dinh said.