This article is part of a symposium on Immigration and Civil Rights After September 11: The Impact on California.
The United States helped to pull Cambodia into the Vietnam war, initially through secret bombings in Cambodia in 1969 and CIA support for a rightist coup in Cambodia in 1970. After the Khmer Rouge genocide of two million of its own people in Cambodia, thousands of survivors fled to refugee camps. Eventually, the United States admitted 145,000 Cambodian refugees. U.S. resettlement policies provided public assistance and job training for low-income jobs. Refugee families, however, were not provided with the tools necessary to raise their children in inner-city environments, where crime was rampant and culture was radically different from where they came. As a result, many of the refugee children, products of their U.S. environment, have turned to crime. Until recently, the United States did not deport refugee criminals to countries like Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In March 2002, however, the United States strong-armed Cambodia into signing a repatriation agreement and removed scores of the 1500 potential deportees of Cambodian nationality to a country that most never knew or left as infants. This Article challenges the moral basis for these deportations and asks whether justice is really being served. The removal of Cambodian refugees offers us an opportunity to rethink the entire concept of deportation and demands that we consider other options.