Long Beach resident Rot Mythong being held by ICE at Adelanto Detention Center

As activists rush to free Mythong in fear that he may contract COVID-19, California 47th District Congressman Alan Lowenthal introduces resolution to cease deportations of Southeast Asian refugees.

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Local immigrant-rights groups have been phone banking the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since April 30 to advocate for the release of Rot Mythong, a Long Beach resident and ethnically Lao war refugee from Cambodia, from the Adelanto Detention Facility before he potentially contracts coronavirus.

Mythong was sentenced to life in prison when he was 17, and was granted parole after serving 29 years. The crime’s sentencing was not immediately known.

The day he was scheduled to be released on parole, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation made the decision to transfer him directly to ICE detention.

Many activists believe that remanding an inmate to ICE custody after they have finished serving their sentence in jail or prison is excessive and cruel.

California jails and prisons have the option to notify ICE when an inmate is released, but is not required to do so, according to Asian Prisoner Support Committee member Nathaniel Tan at a seminar on Southeast Asian deportation at the United Cambodian Community building in Long Beach on Feb. 18.

The Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition, Sanctuary Long Beach, Khmer Girls In Action and the May Day Long Beach Coalition shared information about Mythong on their social media pages, encouraging community members to call ICE at (213) 500-4912 and read a script asking for his release from Adelanto.

According to the script, Mythong survived cancer twice and suffers from asthma. He recently had an asthma attack, and reportedly has experienced constant coughing and dryness in his throat. With these conditions, he is at high risk of COVID-19, the immigrant-rights groups stated.

An online ICE database confirms that Rot Mythong is still being held in detention at Adelanto Detention Facility. Sanctuary LB did not respond to further inquiries about Mythong, as of press time Thursday, May 7.

Detention centers become hazardous places in an outbreak. This was shown when an outbreak of mumps in ICE detention centers spread to immigrants being held at 57 different locations in 2018 and 2019, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

While many Southeast Asian immigrants arrived in the United States with refugee status and are legally considered permanent residents, their residency can be easily lost if they commit a crime, including non-violent ones.

In many cases, decades pass between the offense and when those who committed them are deported. Middle-aged individuals, who have assimilated to life in the U.S. are deported for crimes they committed when they were teenagers.

California 47th District Congressmember Alan Lowenthal recently introduced a resolution to the House of Representatives that calls on President Donald Trump to cease the deportation of Southeast Asian refugees, promote equitable social programs for Southeast Asian American people and recognize their resettlement and contributions within the United States, according to a May 5 press release by Lowenthal’s office.

The deportation of Southeast Asians, especially Cambodians, increased exponentially once Trump entered office. ICE reported a 279% increase in the deportation of Cambodian immigrants from the United States between fiscal year 2017 and fiscal year 2018. In fiscal year 2017, ICE deported 29 Cambodian nationals, compared to 110 in fiscal year 2018.

Lowenthal’s resolution references laws and policing practices that disproportionately affected refugee and immigrant communities.

“The War on Drugs, Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, expansion of the incarceration system and over policing of low-income refugee communities resulted in a significant number of Southeast Asian Americans coming into contact with the criminal justice system,” the resolution states. “Whereas the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 expanded the definition of what type of crime could result in deportation and limited due process protections for immigrants, refugees and other noncitizens; the Act also allowed the expanded definition to be applied retroactively without proper consideration of an individual’s lived circumstances.”

Southern California and Long Beach received an influx of South Asian refugees after the violence experienced in the region, such as the Cambodian Genocide, the Cambodian- Vietnames War and the U.S. war in Vietnam. Long Beach has the largest population of ethnically Cambodian people outside of Cambodia.

“Throughout its history, America has greatly benefited from the direct contributions of immigrants to our nation,” Congressmember Lowenthal said. “This year marks the 45th anniversary of the great diaspora from Southeast Asia, many survivors of which settled in the 47th District, rebuilt their lives, and added to our culture by sharing theirs. I am proud to introduce this resolution to remind us of the struggle these immigrants faced, to remember the challenges they overcame, and to celebrate contributions they have made to American life. It is also in honor of them that we urge the president to halt the deportation of Southeast Asian refugees, many who came to the United States as part of the diaspora. The story of the refugee is the story of America and we cannot turn our backs on them, now or in the future.”