Kang Hen came to the United States as a refugee in 1985 as a child. Hen, his parents, and siblings escaped the genocide in Cambodia and survived Khmer Rouge labor camps. Hen is seen here with his wife, Ruth, and their son, Kayden.
Two former Cambodian refugees facing deportation for crimes committed as young adults were among seven people granted clemency by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in his first pardons since taking office in January.
Newsom on Monday pardoned Kang Hen who pleaded guilty to being the getaway driver during an attempted armed robbery in 1994. Hen, who was brought to the U.S. when he was 9, surrendered to immigration authorities on April 1 after being notified he was wanted for deportation.
The governor, a Democrat, also issued a pardon for Hay Hov, of Oakland, who was convicted of solicitation to commit murder and participation in a street gang in 2001.
Immigration officials took Hov, a naturalized citizen, into custody in March.
“We are deeply grateful to Governor Newsom for recognizing the plight of refugees who are being targeted by the Trump administration and for acting with compassion and leadership to stop their deportations,” said Aarti Kohli, executive director of Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, which advocated for the pardons.
Both men petitioned Newsom for pardons, saying they have moved past their troubled youth to become respectable men with jobs and families. They both immigrated to the U.S. lawfully as children, fleeing the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.
At least 1.7 million people — nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population — were killed by execution, disease, starvation and overwork under the Khmer Rouge's brutal regime from 1975 to 1979.
Hen and his family came to the U.S. in 1985, settling in San Jose. At age 12, Hen was pressured into joining a gang, the caucus said. Since his release from jail, Hen has lived in San Francisco, working at a seafood business for the past 13 years. He and his partner of 17 years, Ruth, have a three-year-old son.
Hov and his family were admitted to the U.S. in 1985 after spending many years in refugee camps. They settled in east Oakland, where as a child, Hov was beaten up, stabbed and hit with a stray bullet, the caucus said.
At age 19, Hov got into a verbal argument with an older man in his neighborhood. The feud between the two escalated and Hov was later convicted of solicitation of murder. Since then, Hov has stayed out of trouble, the group said, and his co-workers at Pet Food Express launched a petition in support of a pardon.
While pardons don't automatically halt deportation proceedings, they do eliminate the criminal conviction that judges often base their decisions on, the governor's office said.
In Hen's case, a pardon may eventually allow him to stay in the U.S. Hov, whose green card was recently re-instated by a judge, is no longer at risk of deportation.
"Both men have young children, are the primary income provider for their families, and provide care to relatives living with chronic health conditions," the governor's office said in a statement. "Their deportation would be an unjust collateral consequence that would harm their families and communities."
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The pardons are a rebuke to President Trump's administration, which has cracked down on immigrants who committed crimes. Since Trump took office, a large number of people have been detained and deported to Cambodia, advocates say.
Newsom's predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, pardoned five Cambodian refugees who faced deportation last year.
Newsom also pardoned five other people who had convictions more than 15 years old — including business owners, students and at least one grandparent, the governor's office said. Their crimes ranged from forgery to drug-related offenses.
None of those pardoned had multiple felonies and all had completed their sentences, Newsom's office said.
Newsom's highest-profile use of his clemency powers came in March, when he placed a moratorium on executions for the 737 people on California's death row. His action temporarily halted the death penalty in the state.
KQED News' Miranda Leitsinger contributed to this report.