A federal judge has not officially ruled on alleged human rights violations against detained immigrants, but one of those detainees will get to spend Christmas with his family.
Soeun Kim, a new class member in the high-profile Boston immigration lawsuit, was ordered released Tuesday afternoon while questions about Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s treatment of detainees, including Kim, are reviewed in court.
“As respondents have repeatedly acknowledged in this case, separation of an alien from his or her citizen spouse and children is a form of irreparable harm,” Federal Judge Mark Wolf wrote in his latest order. “Kim is scheduled to be removed from the United States the week of January 5, 2020. Therefore, the opportunity to spend time with his family now is especially precious and irreplaceable.”
Kim was released Tuesday night, said Adriana Lafaille, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. His release means he will be able to spend Christmas with his wife, Theresa St. Pierre-Kim, and their children, who currently live with St. Pierre-Kim’s parents in Florida.
“We’re incredibly happy for the Kim family that they are getting to spend the holidays together,” Lafaille told MassLive. “We’ll continue to fight for them and for others like them and to hold ICE accountable if it continues to violate the law.”
Kim, who has been detained in Massachusetts since March, is fighting his deportation in his own immigration case. But his release comes after his wife applied for him to be added to the class-action lawsuit first launched after Lilian Calderon, Lucimar de Souza and other immigrants were detained during marriage interviews with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Kim was born in a Thai refugee camp in 1978 after his family fled persecution in their native Cambodia. He arrived in the United States when he was 6 years old.
A year later, he obtained a green card. He remained a lawful permanent resident until he served a nearly 15-year prison sentence for a burglary and robbery conviction, according to court documents. In some cases, green card holders lose their legal status if they are convicted of serious crimes.
ICE had detained Kim after he served his sentence, but the agency eventually released him on the condition that he periodically check in with immigration officials. That arrangement ended in March when he was told he would be detained again.
For the past nine months, Kim has been held at the Franklin County House of Correction in Greenfield. ICE seeks to deport Kim in January to Cambodia, a place he’s never been.
Kim is fighting his deportation in hopes of again obtaining a green card, this time through his marriage to St. Pierre-Kim.
Bethany Li, an attorney from Greater Boston Legal Services, took Kim’s immigration case to Boston federal court through a request known as a habeas petition.
ICE ‘must obey the law’
ACLU attorneys argued that Kim, like other detainees, were entitled to proper notices of post order custody reviews, also known as POCRs, and interviews, but that they did not receive them.
Attorneys from the Department of Justice, however, argued that Kim had the reviews, even though he was not entitled to a 180-day review. Mary Larakers, a DOJ attorney, argued that Kim is not eligible to remain in the United States because of his criminal record.
In the latest court order, Wolf wrote that Kim has been and continues to be “irreparably harmed” by ICE’s conduct, echoing concerns he raised during a hearing in October.
“The failure of ICE to provide Kim the interview required by its regulations indicates that the prior decisions and proceedings in this case have not been sufficient to communicate to ICE that it is unlawful for it to ignore the requirements of its regulations,” Wolf wrote. “It is in the public interest to remind ICE, yet again, that it must obey the law.”
The class-action lawsuit, which began nearly two years ago, has recently cast a spotlight on the POCR regulations, raising questions about whether ICE gave detainees a fair chance to prove why they should be released, a violation of their due process rights.
In her affidavit, Kim’s wife wrote that she added him to the class-action lawsuit because the family had received several notices saying ICE reviewed his immigration case and decided not to release him.
“ICE has reviewed Soeun’s detention a few times, but he was never interviewed,” St.Pierre-Kim wrote. “If we had known that we could submit documents in support of his release, we would have done so.”
Wolf ordered that Kim be released for at least two weeks and asked the federal government to consider releasing him for longer, pending the resolution of his habeas petition. The petition stemming from his immigration case is under review by Judge Allison Burroughs in Boston federal court.
‘Our life fell apart’
Kim first met his wife, then known as Theresa St. Pierre, when they were teenagers. His wife said they had an instant, “magnetic” connection, but she also noticed he was struggling after the death of his grandfather.
“As teenagers, we hung out almost every weekend,” she wrote in an affidavit. “At that time, he had a tough guy attitude, but I could see through it and calm him down.”
By the time they met, Kim was already dealing with the aftermath of his grandfather’s death in 1995. Court documents submitted by Li, his attorney, described Kim as a good student and a passionate soccer player who fell into depression and left school to work.
In 1998, his first U.S.-citizen daughter was born. That same year, Kim pleaded guilty to class D assault, a misdemeanor in Maine. He served seven months in jail.
Two years later, Kim was convicted of robbery and burglary in Maine. He served nearly 15 years in prison.
During his prison sentence, Kim suffered mental health issues as well as violence from other inmates, according to his petition. He said he experiences anxiety, paranoia and nightmares from solitary confinement.
But prison is also where Kim turned his life around. Kim took classes in computers, mechanics, construction and parenting. He participated in Alcoholics Anonymous, although his wife said he never showed any signs of alcohol or drug addiction. He became a devout Catholic and was baptized in 2010 by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston.
While in prison, Kim kept in touch with St. Pierre. She visited him regularly and watched him grow, according to her affidavit.
“His transition has been amazing,” she wrote. “From a kid that was often rebellious, Soeun became a thoughtful, caring, patient and empathetic adult. To this day, he is constantly aware of other people’s feelings.”
“Watching Soeun mature melted my heart because I knew that he had done it for us,” she added.
In 2013, the pair got married. They hoped to start their new life together after Kim completed his prison sentence, but he was transferred to ICE custody. He learned ICE wanted to deport him.
Kim spent seven months in immigrant detention. He was released in November 2014 on the condition that he periodically check in with ICE agents in Biddeford, Maine.
For the next five years, Kim lived with his wife and her two oldest children. Together, they had two children of their own. One was born earlier this year while Kim was detained a second time.
Kim initially had trouble finding a job because of his criminal record, but he soon found work at a packaging company. He also started working weekends for a security company, according to his wife’s affidavit.
In March, Kim received a letter from ICE stating he would again be detained and ordered deported. St. Pierre-Kim, who was pregnant with their second child, recalled crying hysterically when she read the letter. She said Kim went to cry in another room so their children wouldn’t see him upset.
“He was in a state of shock,” St. Pierre-Kim wrote. “Later, he just kept hugging me and my daughter and telling us how sorry he was.”
He went to the ICE field office in Maine willingly, according to court documents. ACLU attorneys argue that Kim not only missed interviews to which he was entitled, but that he was deprived of medication he takes for a serious spinal condition that, if untreated, could leave him paralyzed.
“Since his detention by ICE, our life has fallen apart,” St. Pierre-Kim wrote. “We could no longer afford our home, and I had to sell almost everything we own, including our car. I had to leave Maine, where I have lived most of my life.”
Their usual Christmas routine involves a midnight mass. St. Pierre-Kim wrote that the family is waiting to baptize their 5-month-old son until Kim can be a part of the ceremony.
His wife wrote, “Having Soeun home so that we can celebrate Christmas together, [so he would be] able to hold his baby boy for the first time, would be a miracle.”
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