California Governor Pardons Refugee Threatened with Deportation

(November 20, 2019)—Supporters of Saman Pho say they are thrilled the Cambodian refugee who was expected to be deported due to a prior felony conviction will soon return to his family. California Governor Gavin Newsom used executive clemency to pardon him last Friday.

Supporters had submitted a petition with 40,000 signatures in support of Pho to Newsom. The Covenant Asian Pastors Association (CAPA) had urged Covenanters to add their names to the petition prior to it being presented November 2. Pho’s family is connected to First Covenant Church in Oakland.

“This is one victory among a sea of crises, but it is a victory of hope nonetheless,” said CAPA president Mary March.

“I’m deeply grateful to Governor Newsom for this act of clemency demonstrating his belief in my rehabilitation, and to my family and community for their unwavering support,” Pho said through the Asian Americans Advancing Justice–Asian Law Caucus, which has been representing him. “I hope that Governor Newsom continues to recognize the injustices impacting our communities and uses his power to help so many others in my situation.”

Pho was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on October 3 when he reported as requested to their headquarters in San Francisco. He was one of around 40 Cambodians around the country with past criminal records who were to be deported.

Born in Cambodia, Pho was a child when he and his family were imprisoned in a labor camp under the Khmer Rouge genocide. They witnessed numerous atrocities, and his brother died from malnutrition. After three years, the family escaped. They lived in several overcrowded refugee camps before entering the United States in 1982 when Pho was six years old.

When Pho was 19, he was convicted for firing a weapon while under the influence of alcohol after a group of young men attacked him and his friends. He served 11 years of a 12-year sentence.

He turned his life around while in prison. After his release, the 44-year-old husband and father of four worked multiple jobs and eventually graduated with honors from a cement mason apprenticeship program, becoming a member of Plasterers and Cement Masons’ Local Union No. 300.

“The pardon will allow Saman to reopen his case to prevent his deportation,” according to Asian Law Caucus.

Milan Chang, a spokesperson for the caucus, said the pardon makes it “extremely unlikely” that Pho will be deported because it negates the grounds on which he was being deported. He added that he is unaware of any deportations carried out after an individual has been pardoned.

Pho was detained in Texas and Arizona but is now being held in Yuba County, California, according to his wife, Maribel. Authorities have told her it could be three weeks before he is released.

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Stan Friedman is the news and online editor for the Covenant Companion and is grateful for the opportunity to serve in a job that combines his newspaper and pastoral ministry experience. He has been to 15 Bruce Springsteen concerts in four cities and listened to “Thunder Road” an average of at least once a day for 41 years.

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