For the first time in nearly 20 years, Hay Hov has a green card.
Hov, a Cambodian refugee from Oakland who was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in March, has been freed from a facility in Bakersfield and is no longer at risk of deportation, his attorney said.
The Chronicle highlighted his story days before he and dozens of others across the U.S. were detained by ICE, amid an uptick in the arrests of Cambodians who committed crimes long ago and subsequently lost their green cards.
His attorney, Kevin Lo, had argued that a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the federal definition of a “crime of violence” put Hov outside ICE’s reach for deportation. Federal Immigration Judge Jaime Jasso, based in Imperial County, reversed Hov’s removal proceedings and restored his green card status in on April 25.
Lo was notified of the court order last week, and Hov was released the same day. He took a Greyhound bus back to the Bay Area.
“It feels like a dream. It’s like I’m in heaven,” said Hov during a phone interview Friday, minutes before speaking at a community rally at the state Capitol.
“I’m here to fight for others who haven’t been released yet,” he said.
In the past, immigrants in this situation have been allowed to stay in the United States, but the Trump administration has been pressing Cambodia and a handful of other uncooperative countries — among them Vietnam, China and Iran — to take back their deportees.
ICE has said every country has a legal obligation to accept the return of its citizens when they are removed from other countries. The agency did not respond Friday to requests for comment on Hov’s release.
Supporters of stricter immigration policies say deportation is an obvious and necessary punishment for people who immigrate to the U.S. and commit crimes.
There were 1,855 Cambodian nationals with a final removal order living in the U.S. as of September, according to ICE. Of those, 1,362 were convicted criminals.
Community members across the state are pressuring Gov. Gavin Newsom to pardon several Cambodian refugees at risk of deportation, who, like Hov, committed crimes when they were young that cost them their legal status. A pardon would clear them of any guilt for their alleged crimes, which would significantly increase their chances of winning their deportation cases.
Newsom, however, hasn’t commented publicly on the issue, and it’s unclear if he’ll pardon any Cambodians. A spokesman for the governor said he cannot comment on individual clemency applications.
Hov, a truck driver who served a five-year sentence in Soledad state prison after being convicted in 2001 of shooting a man, had checked in regularly with ICE for more than a decade.
But on his son’s fourth birthday, Feb. 19, Hov got a notice requiring him to report to ICE on March 13. He was among several Cambodian men in the Bay Area detained that day.
About 50 Cambodians nationwide were rounded up in recent months and face deportation, according to advocates.
They say it’s the latest in a series of raids that ICE has orchestrated against Cambodians in particular. But this time they had warning. A U.S. district judge in January issued a temporary restraining order through May that requires ICE to give at least two weeks’ written notice to anyone scheduled for deportation.
Lo, an attorney with the Asian Law Caucus, said the advance notice has given attorneys critical time to prepare their cases.
“We definitely had met Cambodians who had no idea that this (particular check-in) could mean deportation,” said Lo. “Like Hay and many other people who had been checking in for a decade or more, they would’ve thought that this was a normal check-in.
“We were able to touch base with them and at a minimum let them know what to expect that day.”
Hov, who recently returned to work, is awaiting a decision on his application for a government pardon.