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Incarcerated Cambodian refugee Phoeun You deported, fails to get pardon from Newsom

Rally in Oakland to stop former child refugee's deportation
Rally in Oakland to stop former child refugee's deportation 01:39

OAKLAND – A reformed convicted murderer with plans to live in Oakland was deported to Cambodia on Tuesday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials confirmed Thursday.

Phoeun You, 48, sought a pardon from Gov. Gavin Newsom, which never came before his deportation. You's re-entry plan was centered around Oakland.

Federal officials said You was convicted of first-degree murder in Los Angeles County in 1996 and sentenced to 35 years to life. You was a member of the Asian Boyz gang, according to ICE.

But You's supporters said he reformed his life. Supporters said he is a founding member of the restorative justice program Restoring Our Original True Selves, a certified counselor with Bay Area Women Against Rape, and a mentor to other incarcerated refugees from Asia.

"It's very sad that Governor Newsom could have done more to intervene but chose not to," said James Bunyou, You's oldest brother. "He isn't listening to our community outcry. Our family would like to thank all of the friends that came out to support him and fight for Phoeun to stay."

Newsom's office would only say Tuesday evening, "Information regarding pardon applications is confidential and we're not able to discuss individual cases. The Governor regards clemency as an important part of the criminal justice system and all applications receive a thorough and careful review."

You served 26 years in prison. A pardon from Newsom would have allowed You to stay in the U.S. where his family has lived since fleeing the Khmer Rouge when he was 4 years old.

"Phoeun should be home with his family, not deported to a country he escaped as a child," said So Young Lee, an immigrant rights attorney with Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus representing You.

Supporters say that You could return to the U.S. if Newsom does eventually pardon him.

You's family fled Cambodia in 1978 and reached safety at a refugee camp in Thailand. After a year, the family was resettled in Utah, and then moved to Long Beach, according to Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus.

In 1995, when You was 20, he fired into a crowd, killing a 17-year-old boy.

In August 2021, the California Board of Parole Hearings recommended You be released from state prison in recognition of his rehabilitation and service. On his release date, however, California's prison system contacted ICE to detain and deport him.

On Jan. 5, ICE took custody of You and later that month an immigration judge in Van Nuys, California, ordered You sent to Cambodia.

Last month, about 100 supporters rallied at the Elihu M. Harris State Building in Oakland to call for a pardon for You, and urged Newsom to support the VISION Act, Assembly Bill 937, which would end the practice of handing over community members like You for deportation.

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