Cambodian Husband Deported from US, White American Wife to Follow Him to Cambodia

As the US continues to ramp up its deportation efforts, the media have documented the casualties of this punitive response toward immigrants in terms of affected families.

A heartbreaking story on PRI I came across the other day details the deportation of a Cambodian man married to a white American woman from Wisconsin:

Lisa Kum has an endless list of tasks every day. The 41-year-old from Cottage Grove, Wisconsin, has a 19-month-old daughter and a high school-aged son. She’s also tending to her health after undergoing elbow surgery earlier this year.

Nowadays, she’s also busy growing her business that sells refurbished HP printer parts — so that she can sell it and move her family to Cambodia. That’s because Kum’s husband, Sothy Kum, was deported to Cambodia, a country he left when he was just 2 years old. She plans to shut down the small business they started together four years ago and start over 8,000 miles away.

“It’s pretty much been pure hell,” she says. “It’s very emotional. At the same time, you have to get up every morning and keep going because what other choice do you have?”

I can only imagine what a nightmare this has to be for her and her family. Meanwhile, you’re probably wondering, what exactly prompted the US to arrest and deport Sothy Kim? The article details that as well:

Lisa says her husband spent most of the last two years in immigration detention, almost as long as their young daughter has been alive. Sothy and his family fled Cambodia as refugees and spent years in camps, first in Thailand and then the Philippines. He arrived in the US in 1981, when he was about 6 years old.

Lisa and Sothy met in 2009 when they worked at the same company. In 2014, they decided to quit their jobs and take the financial risk of starting their own business. Sothy allowed an acquaintance to pay him to send marijuana to his house. He was convicted of possession of marijuana with the intent to deliver.

After serving his one-year sentence in 2016, Sothy was again detained by ICE. Though Sothy was a legal permanent resident with a green card, his conviction made him deportable. He remained in ICE detention until August 2017, when he was released just in time to see his daughter turn 1 and to marry Lisa. But by October 2017, Sothy was back in custody.

The reporter doesn’t probe further into Sothy’s conviction for marijuana, but it follows a sinister pattern in the US — that people of color constitute close to 80 percent of those imprisoned for possession and sales of marijuana, compared with a paltry 4 percent for whites. (And interestingly, with the legalization of marijuana in America, the people who now stand most to profit are overwhelmingly white.)

Does a conviction of this nature warrant deportation? Supposedly only people committing “crimes of violence” should be sent back to their countries, and it’s hard to imagine that any real violence was going on here.

Meanwhile, there’s another question worth asking — is it right to deport a man who came to the US as a refugee, and at such a young age? The actions of the current Trump administration have overwhelmingly shown they have no regard for such people, including the most recent example of ending protected status for Hondurans in the US. But still, it boggles the mind that a country that would welcome a refugee when he was only 6 years old has now shipped him back to his country of birth, despite the fact that he’s lived the vast majority of his adult life in the US.

Lisa and Sothy Kum remind me of so many interracial couples I’ve encountered over the years, and it was chilling to encounter their story in PRI. Meanwhile, I can’t help but wonder, what will their lives be like after reuniting in Cambodia? Will they be able to find a way forward for themselves and their family? I know deportation can have a devastating effect on people and their families, as a recent report of the tragic end of one man deported to Mexico revealed.

But here’s hoping their family will overcome these difficulties and start anew in Cambodia.

What do you think of this story? Do you believe Sothy Kim’s crime warranted deportation?

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8 Replies to “Cambodian Husband Deported from US, White American Wife to Follow Him to Cambodia”

  1. This is a very sad story. I do not understand the actions of many in power in the U.S. Because this man allowed himself to obtain marijuana (for him or someone else), obviously it must be illegal in Wisconsin. I think more people, even if they have a Green Card, need to be particularly careful in this current political climate.

    Marijuana is actually legal in California now:

    I, personally, don’t use it, but I have a friend (white male in his 60s with 2 children) who prior to the legalization of “recreational pot” was arrested just for that – recreational use. He spent 2 years in jail! Now, it is legal in California, so if one engages in such activity, I highly suggest that first, you don’t do a “favor” for someone else – watch out for yourself first. Secondly, California is an expensive state but a very liberal state. It’s a place that will accept all kinds of people. When one settles in a state or city, they really should acquaint themselves with what is legal, what isn’t, the culture of the place, etc. My family is from Wisconsin, so I feel for you.

    This is a good wakeup call for those who are not U.S. citizens, and to be well aware of the legality of numerous activities in the state/town in which you reside. Unfortunately, this could have been avoided had they been in CA. Of course, our President wants to split up immigrants anyway…but as for the pot — it’s legal here.

    Even if you are a U.S. citizen, beware the laws. Don’t do “favors” for people if you will be engaging in illegal activities. It’s common sense. Certainly, I think they did not expect these consequences, but do keep in mind that many government agencies can have access to ways to either x-ray, or use dogs, etc., especially for drugs. I would never take a chance on something like that and I’d tell anyone who asked me, “no.”

    It is a shame. But this is good information for other people. I worked in law enforcement, and, actually, there are plenty of white people in jail, too. My friend who got busted for pot also lost his land…in Northern California. He was two years too late – then they made it legal. But the damage was done.

    I think this is a good lesson to someone who is trying to get citizenship and especially with a family, that they must follow the rules to the “T.” In this political climate, it is especially tough.

    Complacency – and trying to help others with something that is not “kosher” or “legal,” especially if not born in the US, can have dire consequences. It does for a lot of people who are citizens, too.

    Pass it on to not step over the red line and to follow everything as it should be followed. Keep good records, and don’t do such favors for others. Don’t put yourself in jeopardy.

    I’m not sure this was a case of discrimination. I think Wisconsin is quite Midwestern and provincial. If it had been California, that probably would not have happened – although, personally, I would not do a “favor” like that even for a friend. Put your own safety first.

    I hope they resettle well and that they continue to have a good family life and home there.

    Here is a list of the 2018 states that have legal marijuana. Wisconsin is not one of them:

    I hope this helps.

  2. And somehow, the ruling elites in the USA think that this Cambodian immigrant, along with many other innocents, are a far greater danger than the racially-motivated domestic terrorists who have been carrying out massacres in schools and theaters all over the country. And they STILL are unable to fix a broken background check system that have allowed these unstable individuals to get their hands on assault rifles and other guns. Today, we are in mourning yet again, for 10 more innocent lives gunned down in a Texas high school yesterday morning. And somehow, greater priority is being put upon harassing innocent migrants and breaking up their families. It is a shame.

  3. May be with judges like this, they probably like to deport even citizens and legal immigrants. I bet anything that this judge would like to send his would be daughter in law to Vietnam if he can….

    Read and laugh, sigh or cry!

    And in the UK they deport non-whites married to white Brits, and yes even citizens…

  4. Hi Jocelyn:

    First time commentator on your blog. A lot of these deportations you read about stem from the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 that was passed with full bipartisan support in which both legal and illegal residents can be deported for minor offenses such as drug possession and shoplifting applied retroactively.

    As you probably know there is a movement called Abolish ICE in which activists are demanding that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement be eradicated. I personally think there should be more activism directed towards changing or removing the laws that contribute to these deportations.

    Here are some useful links that your readers might find helpful.

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