Ya Chhan weeps and prays as she explains why her son shouldn't be deported from the United States. Her 31 year old son, Chhoeuth Chhan, escaped with his family from Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge in 1979 after 3 of his siblings had died from starvation, one of whom the 4 year old Chhoeuth was forced to bury himself under leaves in the jungle. By the time Chhoeuth arrived in the US, living as a refugee in Chicago, both he and his mother suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the horrors they had witnessed. Untreated for depression, Chhoeuth attempted to commit suicide twice as a teenager, but was never involved in gangs or violent crime. In 1999, living in Tacoma, he was arrested for domestic violence, his first offense for which he served one year in Pierce County Jail. Stripped of his green card on his release, he received a work authorization paper but when he went to see immigration officers in early 2007 to renew it, he was immediately arrested and ordered for deportation. Now waiting at the privately run Pacific NW Detention Center, he will be deported within 90 days.
Ya Chhan says she would rather die then see her only surviving son sent back to Cambodia. The simple mention of 'Cambodia' to Ya causes her to tremble in fear as she remembers how her entire family was slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge. Too poor to hire a lawyer, she will never able to afford to fly back to Cambodia to visit her only son. She remains near Tacoma for the time being, seeing her son when she can, through a 2 inch plexi-glass window at the prison. A Christian convert, Ya says there's only one thing she prays for from God—US citizenship for her son so he won't be deported.