Cambodian refugee hopes to avert deportation

Updated: 1 p.m. | Posted: 4 a.m.

The status of a Cambodian refugee awaiting deportation orders by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement remained uncertain following a court hearing Wednesday in Faribault.

Judge Thomas Neuville took under advisement the case of Ched Nin, who was arrested several months ago along with seven other men. Attorneys have until Dec. 7 to file arguments in Nin's case.

The men are known in the immigrant rights community as the Minnesota Eight. They're Cambodian-Americans whose families fled the brutal Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Most of them were born in refugee camps.

"Deporting him is the wrong thing to do," said Jenny Srey, a U.S. citizen married to Ched Nin.

"He supports us, he provides for us," she said. "He's a good member of society. He volunteers, he helps people. Those are the people that you want in this country. And that's what he is."

Srey hopes that Judge Neuville will reconsider Nin's sentence. She said Nin pleaded guilty without knowing that his plea was likely to affect his immigration status.

Jenny Srey talks about her husband.
Jenny Srey speaks through a megaphone about the the detainment of her husband, Ched Nin, after attorneys met with an assistant of Sen. Amy Klobuchar in Minneapolis in September.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Nin, who is 36 and not yet a U.S. citizen, shot at the back of a vehicle with a BB gun, and in 2010, he was charged with car theft and second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon. The other men awaiting deportation committed crimes ranging from property damage to second-degree murder.

Most of them served their prison sentences, but a 1996 federal law makes them subject to deportation. The men were recently rounded up to be deported to Cambodia, a country they've never known.

"It would be a life sentence, because they don't have any family out there," Srey said. "They don't know how to live out there. They don't know how to speak the language to survive. And tearing them away from their families and everything they know is a life sentence. And that's not fair."

Immigration attorney Danielle Robinson Briand, the founder of the Center for Immigrant Justice in Minneapolis, agreed. She's working to secure relief for some of the eight.

"These individuals are very scared of basic survival, in a very foreign country, and in a country where they will be stigmatized for being deported back there," she said. "And they will stick out."

She's reviewed all the men's cases. "The clients didn't understand that the convictions would render them deportable," she said. Briand is asking the state to pardon some of the men, which would erase their convictions for immigration purposes and give them time to apply for other immigration relief.