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The Guardian

Deported by Biden: Vietnamese refugee separated from family after decades in the United States

Tien Pham, 38, who fled violence in Vietnam as a child, was deported to an unknown country due to a teenage conviction: “America is my home” Tien Pham and his family came to California from 1996 as refugees. Illustration: Guardian Design Passengers on the March 15 flight from Tien Pham were frightened and anxious. Some were clueless or in denial. Many seemed lost. In the months leading up to his deportation, Pham, a 38-year-old California resident, had hoped he would be able to stay in the country his family had called home since he was 13. 30 other Vietnamese Americans who would fly with him from Texas to Vietnam that day, he knew it was over. “I tried to accept it. I told myself to look ahead, not to look back, ”Pham remembers three weeks later from his cousin’s apartment in Ho Chi Minh City. Pham is among thousands of people expelled by Joe Biden’s administration. Biden has pledged to quash Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant program and deportation machine, and issued some initial executive orders cracking down on immigration and customs enforcement in the United States (Ice). But in his first 100 days, he also maintained a controversial Trump-era rule to immediately deport the majority of those apprehended at the border and indicated he would keep a historically low ceiling for refugees, before doing so. get up after the public outcry. His deportation policies, focused on people seen as a “threat” to society, continued to sweep refugees with old criminal records like Pham, even after their home countries decided they posed no danger to public safety. Surviving a childhood of violence Pham’s memories of Vietnam are largely violent. Born in 1983, he grew up in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. His father had served in the South Vietnamese army alongside the United States and was imprisoned in a “re-education” camp where he was forced to work and ate rodents to survive. His family, originally from northern Vietnam, remained in Ho Chi Minh City and his parents warned him to stay home as much as possible: “Whenever I went out or went to school, I ‘was a target,’ Pham said. “The environment was very violent and corrupt.” At 12, he said, he was brutally beaten and robbed. Pham was relieved when his family arrived in California in 1996 as a refugee, relocating to a social housing project in San Jose. But he struggled with English and fell behind in class, despite his excellent school results in Vietnam: “I was embarrassed and humiliated,” he recalls. Tien Pham and his parents in Ho Chi Minh City before their relocation to the United States. Photograph: Courtesy of Tien Pham Faced with bullying and violence in his school and neighborhood, he became involved in local street gangs, which offered him protection – a shared story of refugees from South Asia. Southeasterns who grew up in poverty in California. Her parents worked long hours in low-paying jobs to stay afloat, and were often unaware of her struggles, including drinking at a young age. In 2000, at age 17, Pham had an argument with other young people, and he and a friend were accused of stabbing and injuring someone. Pham was arrested, prosecuted as an adult and convicted of attempted murder. Under tough sentencing laws, he was sentenced to 28 years. “He looked really young back then,” recalls Chanthon Bun, a Cambodian refugee who was held in the same prison 20 years ago and has become like a big brother to Pham. “He was intimidated. I showed him how to navigate the prison, how to protect himself. Bun and Pham have motivated themselves over the years to stay productive and opened up about their parallel childhood. “We spent a lot of time unraveling our trauma,” Bun said. The duo often joked to make the prison more bearable, Bun said. “We grew up imprisoned together.” Pham received several diplomas and certifications, helped teach an ethnic studies program, and worked for a prisoner-run newspaper. Pham was granted parole last June after new laws were passed recognizing the harm caused by long sentences to children. Several community groups had pledged to support his reintegration, he had strong backing from prison staff, and the governor approved his release. On the morning of August 31, the day of his scheduled release, Pham’s family were waiting for him outside San Quentin prison north of San Francisco, ready to take him home for the first time in two decades. But Pham never came. “We thought we would all be together at our family table again,” Tu Pham, Tien’s 74-year-old father, said in an email in Vietnamese, translated by his daughter. “We had always believed that America was a land of hope … Things were hopeful until one day we waited for Tien at the door of ‘freedom’ only to see him nowhere in sight. “We thought America was the land of hope.” Pham was one of more than 1,400 people the California prison system transferred directly to Ice officers at the end of their sentence last year. Gavin Newsom, the Democratic governor, has come under scrutiny for this policy of voluntarily handing overseas-born state prisoners to Ice for deportation, which advocates say is a form of double hardly. Pham was also due to be released at a time when San Quentin was battling a catastrophic Covid-19 outbreak, and he and his family were hoping the prison would let him go home, rather than risk spreading Covid in an Ice detention center. . They were also optimistic because Bun, also a refugee, had been released from San Quentin two months before Pham and had not been transferred to Ice. Tien Pham was one of some 1,400 people the California prison system transferred directly to Ice officers at the end of their sentence last year. Photograph: Courtesy of Tien Pham The two had planned to eat Korean barbecue, visit the beach and go fishing once they were both free. But on Pham’s release date, a van arrived at the prison which he quickly recognized as an ice vehicle. Pham thought of the stories he had heard of people trapped for years in Ice’s detention as they went through their business: “I didn’t want to spend any more time being locked up, and not knowing how long. he was going to stay there was very heavy. on me. ”Once in custody, Pham’s green card was revoked. Over the next six months, Ice shipped him across the United States – to Colorado, back to California, then to Arizona. , Louisiana and Texas. In February, under the new administration, Pham’s lawyer applied for humanitarian parole, but Ice responded with a blanket denial. Despite a public campaign to end the deportation of Pham and d Other Vietnamese refugees, he was evacuated in March Thousands deported under Biden In February and March, the first two full months of his tenure, Ice deported more than 6,000 people, according to data provided by the agency. This marked a sharp decline in the Trump administration, which was deporting roughly twice as many people a month and pursuing deportation against anyone in the country without permission. Biden initially announced a 100-day break on deportations, but the planned policy t exceptions for people considered to be a “danger” to national security. A judge finally blocked the moratorium weeks after its introduction. “Ice’s interim enforcement priorities focus on threats to national security, border security and public safety,” a spokesperson said in an email. But those priorities continue to trap vulnerable immigrant communities, including refugees who have been criminalized as children under outdated crime laws championed by then-Senator Biden. Some asylum seekers have also been returned to areas where they face severe violence, according to advocates. The Asian Law Caucus (ALC) and other California groups are fighting over Gabby Solano, a domestic violence survivor who spent 22 years in prison and whom the Biden administration is seeking to deport to Mexico. ALC activists said they were particularly frustrated to see Biden deport large groups of Asian refugees in the same week he condemned anti-Asian violence. Lawyers also argued that felony convictions should not justify deportation. “They define the eviction policy as a public safety policy – that they expel people who pose ‘imminent danger’,” said Anoop Prasad, the ALC lawyer representing Pham. “But we see that is not true. California frees people on parole after explicitly finding that they are safe … and still hands them over to Ice for deportation. On his flight to Vietnam, Pham attempted to comfort people around him, including some who he said barely spoke Vietnamese and had lived in the United States for decades. Some were recently picked up by Ice and appeared in denial: “They were really lost… They have families, businesses and properties that they are leaving.” He and others, however, were relieved that they had not been detained by Ice, where he said they had not been given the opportunity to be vaccinated and had recently met another inmate infected with Covid. “I just want to kiss my parents’ Pham” might never be able to come to the United States. His deportation order, in fact, is a life ban, Prasad said, unless the governor of California decides to forgive him. Meanwhile, advocates are campaigning for a California state bill that would end transfers from prisons to Ice and save people from deportation – and urge Biden to exercise his discretion and not deport. of people on the basis of convictions. In Ho Chi Minh City, Pham said it was overwhelming adjusting to freedom for the first time since he was a teenager, while being exiled thousands of miles from his family. He was able to visit relatives in Vietnam, but said Ho Chi Minh City was unfamiliar to him. He did, however, recognize the area where he was assaulted at the age of 12. I pray every day that the Covid restrictions are over and that I will be strong in conquering my ill health so that I can hopefully see Tien Tu Pham Pham again and could continue teaching English, although for the Now he’s just getting used to technologies he’s never used behind bars. Pham’s family hope to travel to Vietnam, but his father has recently fallen ill. “I pray every day that the Covid restrictions are over and that I will be strong in beating my ill health so that I can hopefully see Tien again,” her father told The Guardian. For now, he added: “We continue to see Tien on a screen.” Pham said it was hard to believe his family reunification in California would ever come true. “I imagined it so many times… I always felt America was my home. My family, relatives, friends, they’re all there, ”he said, adding,“ I just wanted to hug my parents and say, ‘Mum and dad, I’m home.’ “



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