NEW: Tien Pham, 38, was deported by Biden and separated from his family after decades in California.

“America is my home. My family, my loved ones, my friends, they are all there,” he told me from Ho Chi Minh City.

Tien is a Vietnamese refugee whose family fled violence + resettled in the US when he was 13 years old. He was prioritized for deportation by the Biden administration due to an old teenage conviction.

He is one of thousands of people who have been deported by Biden.
Tien grew up in the aftermath of the Vietnam war. His father had served in the South Vietnamese army alongside the US, and ended up imprisoned in a “re-education” camp where he was forced to work and ate rodents to survive. Tien faced severe violence in Ho Chi Minh City as a kid.
“Every time I went outside or went to school, I was a target,” Tien said. “The environment was very violent and corrupt.”

At age 12, he was brutally beaten and robbed. He was relieved when his family fled to California in 1996. They ended up at a housing project in San Jose.
Tien struggled with English + fell behind in class, despite excelling in school in Vietnam: “I was embarrassed and humiliated.” He faced bullying + violence and started drinking at a young age + got involved in gangs for protection. His parents worked long hours to make ends meet
In 2000, at age 17, he got in a fight with other teens. He and a friend were accused of stabbing + injuring someone. Tien was arrested, and even though he was still a minor, prosecuted as an adult + convicted of attempted murder. Under harsh sentencing laws, he was given 28 years
“He looked really young back then,” recalled Chanthon Bun, a Cambodian refugee who was incarcerated at the same prison 20 years ago + became like a big brother to Tien. “He was intimidated. I showed him how to navigate prison, how to keep safe... We grew up incarcerated together”
Despite all the hardships behind bars, Tien accomplished a lot. He received multiple educational degrees, helped teach an ethnic studies program + worked for a prisoner-run newspaper. When laws finally changed to acknowledge harm of long sentences for kids, he was granted parole
Multiple community groups had pledged to support his reentry, he had strong endorsements from prison staff + Gov @GavinNewsom approved his release last year.

On Aug 31, the day of his scheduled release, his family was waiting for him outside San Quentin prison. He never came.
“We thought we would all be joined again at our family dinner table,” said Tu Pham, Tien’s 74-year-old father. “We had always believed America is a land of hope … Things were hopeful until the day we were expecting Tien at the ‘freedom’ gate only to see him nowhere in sight.”
Tien was one of roughly 1,400 people who the California prison system transferred directly to ICE agents at the end of their sentences last year. @GavinNewsom has faced intense scrutiny for this policy of voluntarily handing foreign-born state prisoners to ICE for deportation.
Tien would’ve been home with his family and still a legal permanent resident if California hadn’t sent him to ICE. Instead, his green card was revoked and over six months, ICE shipped him across the US – to Colorado, back to CA, then to Arizona, Louisiana + Texas. During covid.
His lawyers filed for humanitarian parole in Feb after Biden took over. ICE denied the request + deported him and 30 other Vietnamese Americans on a flight in March. ICE deemed him a “public safety threat” even though CA had explicitly ruled he wasn’t a danger and safe for parole
On his flight to Vietnam, Tien tried to comfort the people around him, including some who barely spoke Vietnamese + had lived in the US for decades. Some were recently picked up and in denial: “They were really lost …They have families + businesses + properties they are leaving”
Tien said it was overwhelming to adjust to being free for first time since he was a teen, while also being thousands of miles from his family. He has visited relatives in Vietnam, but said it felt largely unfamiliar. He did recognize the street where he was assaulted at age 12.
Tien’s family hopes to travel to Vietnam, but his father has recently fallen sick. “I pray everyday for Covid restrictions to be over and that I would be strong to beat my poor health so that I can hopefully see Tien again.” For now, “We continue to see Tien over a screen.”
Tien said it was hard to think that his family reunification in California would never happen.

“I pictured it so many times. I just wanted to give my parents a hug and tell them, ‘Mom and Dad, I’m home.’”
Advocates (@aaaj_alc @anoop_alc @sleesays) have been fighting to pass legislation in CA, which would end transfers from prisons to ICE and stop deportations – and urging Biden to exercise his discretion and not deport people based on convictions.…
In February and March, Biden’s first two full months in office, ICE deported 6,000+ people, including many refugees like Tien who have spent many decades in the US and who are being sent to countries where they could face severe violence.

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