A Change of Guard

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Tuesday, 24 June 2008

US Policy, Not Khmer Rouge, Splits Family

The life of Cambodian deportees in Phnom Penh.

23 June 2008

Nearly 1,500 Cambodians have been deported under a US law that allows illegal immigrant felons to be returned to their home countries after serving their sentences.

For people like Chea Sath, whose son was deported in 2004, the policy has meant the division of a family that strived to stay together through the Khmer Rouge.

Chea Sath's son, Mam Chhen, was four years old when he came to the US, joining an exodus that would eventually reach 100,000 Cambodian refugees in America after the collapse of the regime.

Chea Sath never wanted her family to split up, she said in an interview, but Mam Chhen found himself straddling two cultures as he grew.

"Chhen came to the US as a child, and quickly he assimilated into the street culture of the poor neighborhoods, and he got into trouble with the law," Chea Sath said.

Mam Chhen was convicted of a shooting and spent five years in jail. Following that, in December 2004, he was deported.

"My son faces a very difficult adjustment in a country he fled, and I support him with money every month," Chea Sath said, with worry on her face. "I have gone to visit my son three times in Cambodia since he left the US in 2004, and I'm not sure he'll have a safe life. He needs to adapt to a life and culture that is very different to his experiences in America."

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