Excerpted From: Samantha Sar Hing, Applying a Reparations Framework to Advocate for Mental Health Services for Cambodian Refugees, 40 Years Later, 24 Rutgers Race & the Law Review 203 (2023) (182 Footnotes) (Full Document Requested)


00NoPictureWhile many scholars have talked generally about why the United States deports refugees, there has been a focus by academics and students into the deportation of Cambodian-American refugees. I utilize a reparations-based framework of harms faced by Cambodian refugees and suggest specific remedies for those refugees and their descendants. This framework will help us understand why the United States is deporting Cambodian-Americans who entered originally as refugees. I argue that the deportation of Cambodian-Americans who entered between 1975 and 1995 is partly due to the lack of mental health services during refugee resettlement. In this note, I link that the lack of mental health support has led to specific manifestations of trauma, such as the entanglement of young Cambodian-Americans in the criminal legal system, which in turn has led to inadmissibility and subsequent deportations.

Part I of this Note outlines why a traditional litigation of reparations is difficult and why a more general reparations framework, which analyzes the underlying causes and problems impacting Cambodian-American refugees to pose adequate remedies, is most appropriate. Part II will examine, inter alia, the history of United States interventionist policies that led to the Southeast Asian refugee crisis of the 1970s and 1980s. Additionally, this part will discuss the conflicting goals that United States' agencies had regarding refugee resettlement.

Part III identifies the harms of the rushed resettlement process and the consequences of limited mental health services for Cambodian-Americans upon arrival. This part will show how a lack of mental health services is a contributing factor to higher crime rates within the Cambodia-American community that has resulted in deportations. Part IV analyzes the origination of health law and the related rights entitled to displaced people through both federal and state law, highlighting recent litigation and contemplating its implications.

Finally, in Part V, I will explore what reparations may look like, taking into account potential cultural barriers and culturally competent programs. More generally, this section discusses educational opportunities to move sentiment on refugees in general and why the passage of the New Forward Act may be a way to break the cycles of trauma that Cambodian-Americans face.

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The reparations framework identifying root causes and harms by Black abolitionists thinkers is applicable to harmed communities like Cambodian-Americans for identifying nuanced demands. The United States has a duty to continue funding community-based culturally-competent programs providing mental health services to Cambodian-Americans because of the interventionist policies during the Cambodia Civil War which lead to the subsequent rise of the Khmer Rouge. These efforts must take place on the federal level since there are piecemeal efforts in progressive states that may be harder to duplicate in less-resourced states. There also needs to be a formal recognition and apology for such involvement. It took the United States over forty years to apologize for its mass internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.. Cambodia has, similarly, stated that the United States has yet to apologize for bombing the country during the Vietnam War.

Additionally, there must be greater education to the public regarding refugees in general, as well as education for refugee communities to access their entitled benefits without shame or stigma. A long and sordid history of international legal developments pertaining to refugees has created inefficient and harmful systems whose effects are felt to this day, despite the government's duty to protect its non-citizens. Although healthcare practitioners advocate for greater services to refugee communities through studies on the aging refugee population and their descendants, it is important now for the community to take these findings and to advocate for both state and federal legislation to end the harmful laws affecting the Cambodian-American community, and to demand consistent and sustainable funding the community-based and culturally competent services Cambodian-Americans are entitled to and deserve.

Samantha Sar Hing, Rutgers Law School-Newark Juris Doctor candidate, 2023.