Oakland Man Facing Deportation for Nonviolent Drug Crime

August 12, 2015

Chea Bou, a plainspoken, middle-aged man, fled Cambodia when he was nine years old. He recalls the way the grass pricked the bottom of his bare feet as he walked for miles to the Thai border. His family shared one can of rice a week and foraged in the jungle for insects and potatoes. Bou carried a knife to defend himself against the soldiers who escorted refugees fleeing the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot's brutal regime in the late 1970s.

During the escape, Bou lost sight of his parents for several days and carried his younger brother on his back. Although traumatized by war, genocide, losing two siblings during the escape, and witnessing the executions of other refugees, Bou eventually made a life for himself and his family in East Oakland.

But today, Bou sits in a Haskell, Texas jail awaiting deportation to a country from which he fled more than three decades ago. He cannot read or write Khmer, and his recollections of the war haunt him. "The memories I have of Cambodia are of hunger and starvation, torture and killing, and fear and chaos in the roads," Bou said in a statement to immigration officials.

Bou's case is an example of what some advocates say amounts to "double jeopardy" for immigrants -- that is, someone who has served time for a nonviolent criminal sentence, but then routed to a jail under the custody of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation. In 2013, Bou was convicted on six counts of nonviolent, drug-related crimes that resulted in a one-year criminal sentence that also automatically made him deportable.

"The punishment just seems so disproportionate to the crime he committed," said his lawyer, Linda Tam, director of the Immigration Clinic at the East Bay Community Law Center in Berkeley. "You look at his family and think, this isn't going to make the situation any better for anyone. He's going to have a lifetime punishment [if he were deported]. He's not a danger to society."

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Petition for Field Office Director to stop the deportation and release Chea Boy from ICE custody.

Community rally in San Francisco.


Momo Chang

Senior Contributing Editor

Momo Chang is the Content Manager at the Center for Asian American Media, and freelances for magazines, online publications, and weeklies. Her writings focus on Asian American communities, communities of color, and youth culture. She is a former staff writer at the Oakland Tribune. Her stories range from uncovering working conditions in nail salons, to stories about “invisible minorities” like Tongan youth and Iu Mien farmers. She has freelances The New York Times, WIRED, and East Bay Express, among other publications.