(ESPAÑOL) More than a hundred people of Cambodian descent have been detained over the last month as the Trump administration steps up its efforts to persuade resistant countries to accept deportees, advocates say.
The San Francisco and Los Angeles chapters of Asian Americans Advancing Justice have filed suit against the federal government to stop the detentions, calling them illegal and demanding the detainees be released.
“There was no process, no hearing, no evidence, no cause to support the detention of these people,” said Anoop Prasad, an attorney with the San Francisco chapter.
Immigrants detained for deportation must be released after six months if authorities cannot prove they are a flight risk or danger to society, said Laboni Hoq, litigation director for the L.A. office of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, or AAAJ.
Last week, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn wrote a letter warning federal officials against using the detainees as “bargaining chips” to compel Cambodia to accept more deportees.
Immigration authorities say they are enforcing federal law and that their actions are supported by international laws that require countries to accept the return of their citizens when asked.
Cambodia was one of the four nations hit with visa sanctions in September after they refused to cooperate with the administration’s deportation efforts, said Lori Haley, a spokeswoman for Immigration Customs and Enforcement. Visa restrictions have also been placed on certain travelers from Eritrea, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
But it’s not clear whether authorities in Cambodia or any of the other countries have decided to accept all the new detainees. Channoch Vong, first secretary of the Cambodian Embassy in Washington, said that U.S. and Cambodian officials discussed the issue in early October, but there is no schedule for deportations yet. Officials at the Cambodian consulate in Long Beach said they have not been instructed to prepare any travel documents for the recent detainees.
Cambodia has refused to issue travel documents to such individuals in the past in part because they struggle to function in a country that is unfamiliar to them. Cambodian officials have accepted only about 500 people for repatriation since 2002, an average of 35 a year.