I am Roeun Pich, a Khmer genocide survivor, a father of five children and loving husband living in Oakland, CA. Please help keep my family together, save me from my deportation, support my application to Governor Newsom for a pardon.
When I was 9 years old, my family and I fled Cambodia’s genocide and the refugee camps of Thailand. From 1975-1979, just as The Vietnam War was ending, the Khmer Rouge Regime invaded the cities of Cambodia and forced millions of innocent civilians into labor camps, forging the country into an agrarian society. 1 out of 4 people died, killing three million people. This horrific past still haunts my family and the millions of innocent Khmer civilians today. The war began in 1975 and I was born in 1976. After the coup and during the enslavement, my parents lost three children from hunger, dehydration and disease. My parents and my siblings endured torture and witnessed mass killings and when I was two years old, my mother gave up on trying to save my life. I was a sickly and weak baby, and without proper care, nutrition or medication, I did not respond to anything they did. My father vowed to my mother he would not lose another child to this war. He picked me up and carried me on his shoulders as we made the journey to the Thai border for the refugee camp. We had to be careful of the land mines that were scattered haphazardly as we were fleeing Cambodia. In the middle of the night, we would try to rest and would be shaken by screams and would have to run again for our lives, leaving everything and everyone behind.
To this day, my family is traumatized from the genocide. They lost children and family members. I know that trauma lives in the body and even as an infant I am traumatized from the killing fields. My father, mother, two brothers and I came to America in 1985 when I was nine years old. It was a hard transition for us. We had such a hard life already and we spoke no English. We lived with my father’s niece in Oakland. My parents applied for public housing and 8 months later they found a home in a poor and violent neighborhood of Oakland. Oakland in the 1980’s was in the middle of a radical movement; the crack cocaine epidemic elevated the rate of violent crimes and Oakland became one of nation’s most crime-ridden cities.
In school I was bullied. I was a small and poor child thrown into a society I was unfamiliar with and a culture that was not my own. No child deserves to be physically, emotionally and psychologically abused. I never brought this issue up to my parents; they had their own trials raising children in a foreign place. My parents were focused on our everyday survival and could hardly deal with their own trauma and mental health illness. I was taught by others to minimize my complaint and seeking help from adults was an act of weakness and I shouldn’t be a “tattle-tale.” Because of the shame I kept the torment to myself, I suffered for years in isolation.
This pain negatively impacted my life and I became a disappointment to my family. In 1996, when I was 22 years old, I saw a car with the keys in the door and without a thought I jumped in and took it for a joyride. This one night of pleasure, from the endless days of torture, is the reason I will be deported from my family and my children. I ran from the police. When I saw the officer, I had a flashback of the Khmer Rouge soldiers killing and hurting people. In my young mind, I saw anyone in a uniform as a threat, a scary and real threat. This reckless evasion caused me to have a felony, my one and only felony. I spent 339 days in a state prison, a miserable time for me. I was alone, left with my thoughts and my guilt, questioning why I did what I did. I am sorry and I know what I did was wrong. I have felt remorse for taking someone else’s property and for running from the police.
Since that night, I have changed my life around. I have learned from my mistake and I will never go down that road again. Since that one night, I have raised a child on my own. Her mother left for Texas when she was just six months old. My wonderful daughter Juju has a learning disability but is thankfully getting support from her family and her school. I was blessed to meet a beautiful woman, Kanley, fifteen years ago and we have now been married for nine years. Together we raise five children, two daughters from our previous marriages and two daughters and one son of our own. My wife and my children are my life. We both work full time jobs and coordinate our schedules to balance the four different school schedules of our children. We work hard to never let our children go through what we’ve endured, but instead, give them a loving and positive household. I can now show my children how a husband should treat his wife, with love and nonviolence. After work, I still make time to watch the kids and to help with homework. My passion is fishing and now I take my kids along with me. I supported my wife to go back to school and receive her high school diploma and now she is a Notary Public and about to launch her own business. We cook traditional Khmer food together as a family and everyone laughs at my silliness. I am grateful to have this life that we have built together. If anyone were to steal any of our property I would be angry, violated and disappointed. I know what it takes to own something like a car and how much the car means to my family, I could never steal again.
I am asking for a pardon because my conviction was 22 years ago and since then I have been good father and loving husband. I have no connections in Cambodia and I have no family ties there. I was born in the atrocities of the labor camps and therefore deporting me to a country where I was tormented is inhumane and unjust. Cambodia is not my home; here in Oakland with my family, friends and a career in healthcare is my home. How will I be able to survive in a country that is not mine? What will my children do without me? How will this deportation negatively impact them? Our eldest daughters from separate marriages are now sisters and best friends, and if I am deported, my daughter Juju could be taken away to her biological mother and be separated from her siblings and the only Mom she knows. Every morning we wake up and keep going. That is our only choice. At any moment ICE agents can target and raid us, creating anxiety and panic for us, how can we rest? Deportation will fracture our family. My elderly parents who are survivors will now lose another child. My children will grow up without me and our relationships will be stunted. My wife, my champion, will go on and try to care for our young children alone. And if I am deported my eldest could be sent away too. This is my emotional plea. Since the genocide, this is the most cataclysmic event of my life. I beseech you to pardon my felony and to keep me in this country. Allow me to heal, to show my children the right path, and to give back to my community that needs so much help. Please sign this petition.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
1965-1973 – Years of bombing led Cambodia into the hands of the rising and genocidal leadership of the Khmer Rouge
1970s – Due to war, political upheavals and genocide, a mass influx of Southeast Asians took refuge in the U.S.
1975-2002 – About 1,146,650 Southeast Asians were resettled in the U.S. To deal with this massive influx, the Office of Refugee Resettlement was created in 1980. Most families were resettled into inhumane conditions and in impoverished neighborhoods where Southeast Asian refugee communities were vulnerable to poverty, crime, violence, structural disadvantage, racism, discrimination, and profiling.
Across the country, law enforcement agencies labeled Cambodian communities as “gang infested,” and over-policing of Cambodian communities led to racial profiling, police brutality, and high incarceration rates—higher than any other Asian ethnic group in relation to the size of the Cambodian population.
1996 – US passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) and Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). These laws expanded “aggravated felony” to include offenses that are neither aggravated or felonies under criminal justice law, but lead to deportation under immigration law. Deportation for “aggravated felonies” also became permanent with no right to return and was applied retroactively, leading to double jeopardy.
2002 – US signed a Repatriation Agreement with Cambodia—without transparency, insight, or accountability to the community impacted—and began deporting Cambodian- Americans.