Several Asian American and immigrant rights organizations are seeking help to stop the deportation of Phoeun You, 48.

Phoeun You

Phoeun, a Cambodian refugee who has been incarcerated for 26 years and was transferred directly to Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE), is facing deportation to Cambodia, despite pleas from supporters who say Phoeun had turned his life around for the better while incarcerated.

Supporters are now seeking a pardon from Gov. Gavin Newsom.

In 2021, the California  Board of Parole Hearing (BPH) recommended Phoeun for early release in recognition of his commitment to service, mentorship and rehabilitation. But Phoeun was immediately handed over to ICE by the California Department of Corrections  & Rehabilitation (CDCR) upon his release in January 2022 since he is not a U.S. citizen.

Phoeun was just 4 years old when he and his family escaped the bloody genocide of the Khmer Rouge. They traveled on foot for three days in the jungle until they arrived at a refugee camp in Thailand. From there, Phoeun’s family resettled in the U.S.

Like other Southeast Asian refugees, Phoeun struggled with learning a new language and culture and was bullied at school. For a sense of belonging and protection, Phoeun joined a gang at the age of 13.

Phoeun’s home life was also challenging. He lived in a household with 15 people and constantly faced housing and food insecurity. At the same time, Phoeun and his family struggled with the unprocessed trauma of war and surviving a genocide.

At the age of 20, Phoeun shot and killed a 17-year-old in retaliation for his nephew and a friend being ambushed and beaten by rival gang members. Phoeun was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 35 years in prison.

While incarcerated, Phoeun underwent a transformation. He became a layout designer and writer for the San Quentin News and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. He also co-founded ROOTS (Restoring Our Original True Selves), a self-help ethnic studies program that connects prisoners to their history and culture. And he was a facilitator for restorative justice programs including Insight Prison Project and the Victim Offender Education Group.

In 2015, Phoeun graduated with an Associate of Arts degree from Patten University.

Phoeun’s supporters are asking community members to contact Newsom to seek a pardon, which would prevent his deportation.

Send support letters to: and

Make a call to Newsom in support by going to this link:

For more information, contact:

Also follow @protectphoeun on Instagram.

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