Leach Chhoeun came to the United States as a refugee from Cambodia when he was 4 years old, after most of his family was killed during the genocide. Like other refugees, Leach’s family was resettled in an impoverished neighborhood plagued by gang violence, poor schools, unemployment, and a lack of any resources for new immigrants. Cambodian youth were picked on and began joining together for protection. By elementary school, Leach was in a gang.
In 1996, at the age of 18, Leach was arrested for assault with a firearm following an incident in which his cousin exchanged gunfire with a rival gang. Leach was present but unarmed. No one was injured in the incident, but Leach served one year in state prison. Weeks after his conviction, Congress retroactivelydesignated it as an “aggravated felony” under new 1996 legislation.
Leach decided to leave gang life in 1999, months after his brother was mistakenly targeted and killed in a drive-by shooting. He married his wife (now of 19 years) and has focused on raising his two daughters, 14 and 6 years old. His father and both sisters tragically died of Lupus. He is the last surviving relative and primary caretaker of his mother, who suffers from major depressive disorder, memory loss, and seizures. In April 2014, ICE arrested Leach, seeking to deport him to Cambodia for his 1996 conviction.
At the last minute, a judge granted Leach a “stay of deportation,” but before the notice was granted, ICE had already put Leach on a plane to Cambodia. He remains there, unable to care for his mother, wife, or daughters.