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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Demonstrators at York County Prison want detained Cambodian-Americans released


Ana Cruz is nine months pregnant, but her husband, Chally Dang, probably won't be there for the birth.

Dang and several other members of their Philadelphia Cambodian community are being detained at York County Prison for possible deportation as part of a roundup of immigrants with criminal records.

Although Dang, now 28, came legally to the United States from Cambodia as a permanent resident, he was convicted of aggravated assault at age 15 and served time in prison. Under U.S. law, that conviction can affect his immigration status.

But since then he's become a father, a husband and a productive member of society, Cruz said. That's what brought a group of at least 30 members of Dang's community to York County Prison on Friday to protest his detention.

"I'm afraid," Cruz said, one hand resting on her pregnant belly. "Right now, it's just a waiting game. No one tells you how long it's going to take."

Dang and the others detained this week were summoned to the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement office for what they believed was a routine visit, said Raymond Ros, one of the protest's organizers. They were shocked to hear that they would be deported, he said.

All of them have served time in prison, Ros said, but those charges were in their youth. With permanent resident status, they all have jobs, take care of families and pay taxes like a citizen, he said. Dang has worked as a truck driver since he was released.

"Basically we're just trying to send a message that this is unlawful and inhumane," Ros said. "We want to ask them to look at the cases individually and look at what these people have been doing."

Mark Medvesky, an ICE spokesman, said the men were detained because either they were seen as "a threat to public safety or they would not leave the country as ordered." Medvesky would not comment on when the men were scheduled to be deported.

Members of the crowd outside the prison drove two hours from Philadelphia to express their support for the detained. Many carried young children, several belonging to the men inside the prison.

Savon Youk of Philadelphia brought his two teenage daughters wearing T-shirts that read "Free My Uncles." Youk's brother-in-law Mout Iv was one of the men facing deportation.

Iv was convicted of a crime when he was young, but he owns a barbershop now, Youk said. If he's deported, he will have to leave his 3-month-old child, he said.

"I heard about the United States of America as a place of freedom, democracy, free speech, human rights," he said. "But when they did this to them, it is not democracy. It's not human rights

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