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Advocates Fight Former Child Refugee's Deportation to Cambodia After Prison Release

A former child refugee, whose family fled the Cambodian genocide, is facing likely deportation back to a country he barely knows after his recent release from prison. Now, advocates are pushing Gov. Gavin Newsom to pardon him, which would stop his deportation..

Phoeun You was incarcerated for more than 25 years, most recently at San Quentin, before a parole board deemed he was no longer a threat to society and should be released early.

On the day he was to be released in January, advocates said that You was handed over to ICE agents.

“My parole officer approaches me and said, ‘Hey look, you have an ICE hold,” said You by phone from an ICE detention facility in Bakersfield. “That’s when I knew it was the end of my freedom. I knew there was another round of fight to do.”

You’s family fled genocide in Cambodia when he was 1-year-old. They eventually settled in Southern California.

He admits he committed a serious crime when he was a young man. But decades later, from the ICE detention facility where he awaits his fate, You said he’s ready to be with his family and give back to the community. His deportation, he said, would make neither possible.

At 13, in Long Beach, You said he joined a gang for protection. When he was 20, a young family member was attacked by a rival gang. You tried to later retaliate by shooting into a group, and killed a 17-year-old.

Now at 47, You said he has changed. In prison, he earned his Associate of Arts degree, and became a counselor and mentor. He was also a journalist for the San Quentin News. But because he is a Cambodian citizen and was convicted of a violent crime, he can be deported.

“All I’m thinking about is ‘Wow, this is real. I’m not going to get to say goodbye to friends. I’m not going to get the chance to give back to my community. I’m not going to get to say goodbye to my parents in person,” said You.

He expects to be deported any day now.

“I know my family does have relatives there, but they’re complete strangers to me. I’ve never spoken to them, I don’t know who they are,” You said.

Advocates, including the Asian Prisoner Support Committee, are pushing for Gov. Newsom to pardon You to stop his deportation.

“He shouldn’t be deported because he had already served his time and being deported is basically another life sentence,” said community advocate Somdeng Danny Thongsy. “During my time at San Quentin, he actually mentored me a lot and he was one of my facilitators in the trauma therapy class which helped me explore my trauma. And because of that I was able to heal from that.”

“I’ve known him for 10 years. I first met him at the San Quentin Prison Buddhist group, and I’ve seen firsthand his transformation and how much he helped others,” said Jun Hamamoto, an art teacher with the Prison Art Project.

NBC Bay Area reached out to the governor’s office for comment and spokesperson said, “Information regarding pardon applications is confidential and we’re not able to discuss individual cases. The governor regards clemency as an important part of the criminal justice system and all applications receive a thorough and careful review.”

“I hope he can see the work that I’ve done and the work I intend to do,” said You. “And he’s my last hope.”

Source: NBC Bay Area

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