Minneapolis, MN – Around 200 people packed Cowles Auditorium at the University of Minnesota Oct. 20 to hear from the families of eight Minnesota men who are currently detained by immigration officials and facing the threat of deportation to Cambodia. The families called for the release of the Minnesota 8 and an end to unjust deportations. The event also featured the documentary Sentenced Home, which tells the stories of several men who have already been deported to Cambodia.
The Minnesota 8 are Chamroeun Phan, Chan Heng Ouch, Chan Om, Ched Nin, Phoeuy Chuon, Ron An, Soeun Chheng and Sameth Nhean. They are refugees from Cambodia who were detained by ICE in late August, separated from their families, and informed that they will be deported to Cambodia.
These detentions and pending deportations are part of a wave of deportations hitting Cambodian families around the country. Many Cambodians became refugees in the context of the U.S. bombing of Cambodia in the late 1960s and 1970s during the Vietnam War and the subsequent political upheaval in Cambodia.
Several of the people facing deportation were born in refugee camps outside of Cambodia and later migrated to the U.S., never having lived in Cambodia. The eight have U.S. legal permanent residency, but due to punitive immigration laws passed in 1996 and an agreement between the U.S. and Cambodia in 2002 in the aftermath of 9/11, they are now subject to deportation because of felonies in their distant past for which they have already been punished.
The event began with a presentation by a U of MN professor who gave context for the Cambodian refugee experience in the U.S. After watching the documentary Sentenced Home, there were brief statements from representatives of the Cambodian Student Association and the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee-UMN. Then a panel of family members and an immigration lawyer answered questions from the audience. Many people expressed the desire to take action to support the Minnesota 8, and many also expressed the need to build unity to stop these deportations as well as deportations affecting immigrants and refugees of other nationalities.
The families of the Minnesota 8 called on people to contact their elected officials on Monday, Oct. 24 to ask them to pressure ICE to release the Minnesota 8. Specifically, they want calls directed to Senators Klobuchar and Franken, and Representatives Ellison and McCollum. Further details are on the Facebook page @ReleaseMN8 and #ReleaseMN8.
The Oct. 20 event was hosted by the Cambodian Student Association-Minnesota, the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee-UMN and several other organizations.