Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) in 1996, a law with an extensive retroactive effect on past actions.
Immigrants with convictions – however minor, however old – were left with nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
Most immigrants were unsuspecting.
The story of Many Uch is one such case.
According to Kristen Drew, a reporter for Komonews.com, Uch moved to the U.S. when he was just 8-years old to escape genocide in Cambodia. He considers the U.S. home but he never completed the naturalization process.
He overcame various challenges adjusting to life in the U.S. but found himself in trouble when he committed a robbery at 18-years-old. The mistake could also force him back to Cambodia.
“I served my time – I have a family, we own a house, married and we’re doing OK,” Uch told KomoNew. However, he is in limbo because of the conviction 20 years ago.
Recently, Cambodian refugees have become the newest immigrant community to suffer the slings and arrows of IIRAIRA’s cruelty.
Viewed at the macro level, their stories are similar to those of many lawful permanent residents facing deportation due to old convictions.
Under the current definition of “aggravated felonies,” convictions committed long ago can be used as grounds for removal. If the offense fits into certain categories, the immigrants are precluded from fighting back. Defense against removal and deportation is non-existent.
After years of establishing community and family, they are on the verge of deportation – leaving behind jobs, homes and families – for the old convictions even though they have served their time in jail and completed other punishment requirements.
But their situation is unlike most other immigrant groups in one sense.
As I learned firsthand several years ago, many Cambodian refugees carry the burden of having suffered extreme persecution in their home country.
Overlooked from the deportation process in such cases is not merely the persecution, per se.
A bigger government omission, in my view as a Hemet immigration lawyer, is the psychological impact of their past persecution.
Such experiences, coupled with the difficulties of adjusting to a foreign American society at a young age, lead to emotional overwhelm.
Despair, depression, anger, and bad choices follow.
Unfortunately, our deportation laws are immune to such considerations.
In the end, Cambodian immigrants, other refugees from other cultures, are thrown back from the frying pan back into the fire.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics