Resources for Southeast Asian Refugees Facing Deportation

November 10, 2022 Guides & Reports

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has carried out devastating raids on Southeast Asian refugee communities. This webpage provides resources and answers to frequently asked questions for people facing deportation to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. It does not provide individualized legal advice. If you are a California resident seeking legal advice regarding a removal order, please contact the Asian Law Caucus at 415-896-1701 or using our contact form. If you live outside of California, please refer to the National Immigration Legal Services Directory.

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Status of ICE Deportations to Southeast Asian Countries

Cambodia: Cambodia signed a repatriation agreement with the U.S. in 2002. Since then, over 800 people have been deported from the U.S. to Cambodia. The deportations picked up speed in the fall of 2017, when the U.S. cut off visas for certain high-level Cambodian government officials until they start cooperating with U.S. deportation policy. Cambodia will not issue a travel document until after interviewing a person. Prior to the pandemic, Cambodian officials traveled to the U.S. each year to conduct interviews at a detention facility, and ICE carried out raids targeting Cambodians with removal orders in preparation for the interviews each year. Since the pandemic began, arrests have been fewer and more sporadic, and Cambodian officials have conducted interviews virtually. There are about 2,000 Cambodians with removal orders in the U.S.

A nationwide permanent injunction currently requires ICE to send written notice to some Cambodians two weeks before re-arresting them. If you were previously released from detention after being ordered deported and have complied with your order of supervision, you should be included in the class action. Read ALC's community advisory on the permanent injunction.

Laos: Laos does not have a repatriation agreement with the U.S. Laos has rarely issued travel documents for deportation. In July 2018, the U.S. cut off visas for certain high-level Lao government officials until they start cooperating with U.S. deportation policy. In response, the Lao government agreed to issue a limited number of travel documents each year. In February 2022, the U.S. lifted the visa sanctions on Laos.

So far, ICE has not carried out large-scale raids on people with deportation orders to Laos as it has with the Cambodian community. There are over 4,600 people considered by ICE to be nationals of Laos who have removal orders and are living in the U.S. The number includes Hmong, Mien, and other ethnic minority communities.

Vietnam: Vietnam signed a repatriation agreement with the U.S. in 2008. The agreement states that Vietnam will only consider issuing travel documents for people who came to the U.S. on or after July 12, 1995, the date that diplomatic relations were restored between Vietnam and the U.S. After the 2008 agreement was signed, Vietnam issued travel documents for some “post-95” immigrants but not for “pre-95” immigrants. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. began pressuring Vietnam to accept “pre-95” immigrants for removal. In November 2020, Vietnam and the U.S. signed a new agreement that created a process for “pre-95” immigrants to be deported. Vietnam now appears to issue a handful of travel documents for “pre-95” immigrants each year.

Generally, ICE is not arresting pre-95 people from Vietnam at check-ins. There are over 8,600 Vietnamese, Montagnard, and other ethnic minorities with removal orders in the U.S. Find more resources for Vietnamese immigrants who entered the U.S. before 1995.

Know Your Rights

When may ICE enter my home?

Immigration officers may not enter your home without permission unless they have a “warrant.” A warrant is a document issued by a court. Generally, ICE claims that a document signed by a deportation officer not a judge is a warrant. This document does not authorize them to enter your home without permission. It is important that everyone in your household knows to not open the door for ICE. ICE can enter your home if anyone gives them permission to enter. They will treat opening the door as permission and push their way in.

What should I do if ICE is at my door?

Call the Asian Law Caucus at 415-896-1701. Do not open the door. Through the door, ask which agency the officers are with. ICE officers often falsely claim to be police. Ask if they have a warrant and for them to slide the warrant under the door. Check to see if the warrant was signed by a judge or deportation officer.

You can print out cards to inform the ICE officer that they do not have permission to enter and that you do not wish to speak to them. The cards are available in English, Khmer, Hmong, and Vietnamese.

What if ICE is waiting outside my home?

ICE does not need a warrant signed by a judge to arrest you outside of your home. Often, ICE waits down the street until people leave for work to arrest them.

ICE called or sent a letter asking me to check-in earlier than scheduled. What can I expect?

While ICE sometimes does reschedule check-ins, this may also mean that they are planning to detain you. Call the Asian Law Caucus at 415-896-1701 for legal advice and updates on whether raids are happening elsewhere.

Common Questions

I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, Hong Kong, or the Philippines. Am I a citizen of that country?

No. Those countries do not automatically grant citizenship to people born in the country.

Can I be deported to Cambodia, Laos, or Vietnam even if I was not born there?

Cambodia has recognized people born in refugee camps as citizens even though they have never been to Cambodia. Lao nationality law automatically strips people of citizenship if they have been gone from the country for more than seven years without permission.

I have a deportation order. What can I do to prepare?

You should request your immigration file and criminal records and ask an attorney to review them. Find information on how to request your file. You can also make financial and parenting plans if you are detained. Find information on how to make parenting plans.

Can I reopen my case?

Possibly. Immigration law is constantly changing. You should request your file and have an immigration attorney review it.

Will it help if I get my conviction expunged? What about a pardon?

Generally, expungements will not help except for very limited situations. Vacating your conviction may help. If you have a state conviction, a pardon from the governor may also help for some convictions. If you have a state conviction, you would need to apply for a pardon in the state where you were convicted. If you have a federal conviction, you would need to be pardoned by the president. The pardon process varies greatly from state to state. You can get information on the pardon process in your state. If you live in California, you can also read the Asian Law Caucus' pardons guide.

What happens if ICE arrests me?

Call the Asian Law Caucus at 415-896-1701 for legal help. Generally, ICE detains people in a jail or detention center near where they live. For Cambodia, people are then transported from across the country to a centralized location to be interviewed by the Cambodian government. The location varies each time. After interviews, people are usually brought back to where they were initially detained.

I have a deportation order. Can I get a work permit, social security card, and a driver’s license?

If you are on an order of supervision and checking in with ICE, you can apply for a work permit. You can use the work permit to obtain a social security card. Whether you are able to get a driver’s license or state ID using the work permit depends on the state in which you live.

I do not have a deportation order but am in removal proceedings. What are my options?

You should speak to an attorney about your case, and call the Asian Law Caucus at 415-896-1701 for legal help. You can also consult the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center's (SEARAC) guide for resources and background information.