A Major Victory for Cambodian Refugees’ Lawsuit Against ICE Raids and Arrests

This week we had a major victory in our work on behalf of the Cambodian American community, many of whom arrived here as refugees.

Last fall, in the wake of the largest immigration raids targeting the Cambodian community, we filed Chhoeun v. Marin, a federal lawsuit on behalf of Cambodians at risk of unlawful arrests and detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This week, the federal judge in Chhoeun ruled that our lawsuit could move forward as a class action. You can read the class certification order here.

This ruling means that hundreds of Cambodians across the United States are a part of the lawsuit and benefit from the protections we are continuing to fight for, including an end to indiscriminate ICE raids and unwarranted detention. There are approximately 2,000 Cambodian refugees in the U.S. with final deportation orders that are at risk of unlawful immigration arrests and detention.

In the past, ICE’s practice was to release Chhoeun class members from immigration detention in short order because Cambodia refused to accept most of them for deportation. Class members returned to their communities and spent years, even decades, supporting and caring for family, many of whom are U.S. citizens themselves. They held steady jobs and built small businesses, and they reported to ICE for periodic check-ins, even though Cambodia remained steadfast in its refusal to accept most of them for deportation.

All of this changed last fall. Starting last October, ICE rounded up over a hundred Cambodian refugees, and placed them in immigration detention. ICE ripped them away from their families and communities without notice or explanation, let alone an opportunity to challenge the unfairness of this new policy. In fact, some were told that they needed to come to an ICE office for a regular check-in, but when they arrived, they were handcuffed and shipped off to remote immigration detention facilities without ready access to legal services.

ICE’s arrest and detention practices violate the Constitution, and that is why we brought this case. We filed the Chhoeun lawsuit, with our co-counsel Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Asian Law Caucus, Sidley Austin LLP, and the American Civil Liberties Union to both free Cambodians subject to these unlawful practices and protect those at risk of immigration detention in the future.

This week’s ruling marks an important step toward curbing ICE’s unlawful practices and vindicating class members’ constitutional rights. It means that we can fight to protect all Cambodian refugees with deportation orders who were previously detained by ICE, released, and then went onto lead productive lives.

Class certification is significant, but the fight to stop unconstitutional immigration arrests is not over. We will push forward litigating the Chhoeun lawsuit, on behalf of class members across the country. To stay up to date on future developments, sign up for our e-mail alerts.

Together, we can continue to fight for the rights of Cambodian refugees across the country.

By Christopher Lapinig, Registered Legal Services Attorney

Christopher Lapinig is part of Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Los Angeles’ Impact Litigation Unit.



Advancing Justice Southern California (AJSOCAL)

AJSOCAL is the nation's largest legal aid and civil rights organization serving the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community