LOS ANGELES — Federal immigration officials were barred Thursday from conducting any more unannounced raids on Cambodian immigrants living in the US with deportation orders, dealing a blow to the Trump administration, which has significantly stepped up deportations of Southeast Asian immigrants.
Deportations from the US to Cambodia increased by 279% in 2018 compared to the previous year. In December, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted its largest deportation flight of Cambodian nationals with 36 people onboard.
On Thursday, however, Judge Cormac J. Carney in Los Angeles issued a temporary injunction, prohibiting ICE from conducting raids and, instead, ordering the government to give a 14-day written notice before detaining a Cambodian national with a deportation order.
"For years, ICE has been tearing Cambodian refugees from their families without any warning, giving them no chance to talk to a lawyer or even say goodbye to their loved ones," Jenny Zhao, staff attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus, told BuzzFeed News. "The judge has put a stop to that practice for now. It's inhumane and illegal."
The injunction is the latest turn in a legal fight against the Trump administration's effort to ramp up deportations to Cambodia. Many of those facing removal orders fled the country as war refugees or to escape the brutal Khmer Rouge and have not stepped foot in the country since they were children.
Attorneys with Zhao's organization filed suit against the government in October 2017 claiming that, although many of those being detained received deportation orders after being convicted of a crime, many have reported diligently to immigration officials, have not committed additional crimes, and have been detained and deported without notice or a chance to challenge their case.
Many of those affected received deportation orders years ago, but the Cambodian government has refused to issue travel documents. That changed when the Trump administration issued visa sanctions against the government, and began detaining Cambodian immigrants last year.
Nearly 1,900 Cambodian nationals are believed to be impacted by the order.
Since the suit was filed the US is believed to have conducted two smaller raids in 2018 targeting Cambodians, including 30 people detained in the spring of 2018 and 50 in the fall.
According to Carney's order, attorneys representing Cambodian immigrants sought a temporary restraining order after learning from an official in the Cambodian government that the US was planning to detain about 100 immigrants during a raid in January.
US government officials asked attorneys to delay their court filing for the order until after the government shutdown. While attorneys for the immigrants agreed to do so, US officials would not guarantee that they would halt raids on Cambodian immigrants, many of whom would be covered under the lawsuit and the restraining order.
"The Government did not agree to postpone any raids on Petitioners for the during of that stay," Carney wrote in the order. "Given the Government's failure to provide the Court adequate assurances that Petitioners will be afforded sufficient pre-detention notice before the Court issues its ruling, the Court finds that a temporary restraining order is necessary."
ICE officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson, via email, said they were prohibited from responding to media requests during the government shutdown.
"The judge also saw through the government's efforts to put the case on hold during the shutdown," Zhao said. "If ICE continues to raid during the shutdown, they must be held accountable."
A hearing on whether the restraining order will be extended is scheduled for Jan. 28.