Cambodian Refugee Facing Deportation, Asks ICE for a Chance to Donate Kidney to Dying Brother
Santa Ana, CA – Last year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) granted Cambodian refugee Touch Hak temporary relief from deportation due to a groundswell of community support demanding that he be allowed to remain in the country to donate his kidney to his older brother Puthy.
His brother is a U.S. citizen who is in end-stage renal failure and has been undergoing dialysis for almost three years. “Puthy was a true older brother to me because he protected and supported me no matter what. There’s nothing I wanted more than to donate my kidney to save his life,” said Touch.
Unfortunately, after undergoing a lengthy testing process that concluded this month, Touch and Puthy were devastated to find out that they were not a blood type match and the donation could not go through. ICE has again pursued Touch’s deportation, but the brothers were still candidates for a Paired Donation Transplant Program in which they would be matched with another donor-recipient pair, enabling the two recipients to receive organs with matched blood types.
However, the transplant center has determined that it cannot ethically enroll the brothers into this program without a guarantee from ICE that Touch will be allowed to remain in the U.S. long enough to receive post-operative care and recover after such invasive surgery – a period of at least 2 years. If ICE prevents the extension of Touch’s stay of removal, Puthy will lose a major chance at a kidney and Touch will have to return to a country that he escaped from as a young child.
Touch, Puthy, and their parents fled the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. Touch was only 8-years-old when he came to the U.S. as a refugee in 1985 and later became a lawful permanent resident. Like many Cambodian refugees, their resettlement experience was marred by poverty and violence in their local community of Stockton, CA. When Touch was a fifth grader at Cleveland Elementary, he witnessed a gunman walk into the schoolyard and kill five Southeast Asian refugee children.
Touch never received any counseling or support and eventually began to struggle in school, and later with addiction. In 2005, he was charged with a drug crime: possession with intent to distribute. His public defender advised him to plead guilty, without understanding that a conviction could later result in his deportation. Such advice has since been found to be unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
While incarcerated, Touch earned his GED, successfully completed substance abuse treatment and parenting programs, and earned a number of other certificates in order to become a better person and father.
Quyen Dinh, executive director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), said, “Unfortunately, people like Touch grew up as young Americans, struggled as young Americans, are Americans in all rights but their citizenship status, and continue to be disproportionately and doubly punished by criminal immigration laws that tear parents and siblings from their families. Touch clearly poses no threat to the community, and his transformation should be celebrated by allowing him and family to thrive by staying together.”