[Disclaimer: This post is not about immigration. It is not about deportation policies. As you read it, try to push all the political noise aside and think about the human experience and how you can help. And Please, share it with someone].
Imagine being ripped from your home and family without notice. You wake up, plan on going to work, kiss your wife and kids goodbye. As you drive away from your home you notice the gas gauge is low so you stop to fill up. You go inside and get a cup of coffee to wake you up. It is a normal day. No, it’s a beautiful day in Fresno, or Philly, or Seattle. Things are much better since you have turned your life around. You check the time on your phone to make sure you won’t be late for work.
As the gas pump clicks away, an unmarked car pulls up. Uniformed men jump out, frisk you, and tell you “Get in.” As one man turns to open the car door, you notice the back of his jacket. It displays the letters I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). You are confused, but you know what is happening, you have heard stories of other Cambodian/Americans who have experienced this. A million things are going through your head. This can’t be happening to me!
It’s a sunny but cool 40 degree morning, yet beads of sweat appear on your forehead. A flock of geese squawk overhead, but you do not hear them. People nearby have their phones out, taking pictures and videos. For them it’s exciting and they are posting live on Facebook. For you it’s like a nightmare where everything is moving in slow motion. Your legs are weak and heavy. Even though you are sweating, a chill sends shivers down your spine.
You are in the United States legally. You came with your mom and dad when you were a small child, even a baby. Your parents had to get out of their country. They witnessed friends and loved ones slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge in the Killing Fields. Your parents suffer PTSD (Post Tramatic Stress Disorder). You have it too. Your family and others like yours mask it well, but the whole Cambodian community is suffering.
Yes, you are legally in the United States but still; they take your driver license and confiscate your car. They may or may not allow you a phone call to a loved one. There is no due process. They might tell you “You will be home by dinner, we just need to check your paperwork.”, but it is a lie, they know it is not true.
What is true is that you committed a crime years earlier, but you stood before a Judge in court, were sentenced, and did your time. Now you are older and wiser. You are getting your life back on track. You own a barbershop; or are a manager in a company. You are going to school, are married, have a beautiful family. But Double Jeopardy takes its toll. The Fifth Amendment does not apply. You are punished for the same crime.
Sitting alone in the back seat the metal handcuffs dig into the cheap vinyl upholstery. The cuffs hurt, but they are the least of your worries. You only want to see your family, but you are not going home to your loved ones. You may never see them, kiss them, or hold them again.
Soon you are on a plane, shackled again but now for 30 hours as your flight moves from the U.S., Hong Kong, Thailand, and finally landing in Cambodia. You are exhausted, sore, and scared. The belongings you have with you fit into a small backpack. If you are lucky, your family sent you a few dollars while you were waiting to be deported. Either way, you have only $100 or less on you. The plane touches down in Phnom Penh, the capital city. There’s a sign on one of the buildings, Cambodia, The Kingdom of Wonder. You wonder, what will happen next? The ICE agent who has been traveling with you inserts the key into the shackles, gives you a quick glance and tells you, “Have a nice life”.
Your new Cambodian guards know you are scared and confused. They try to force you to pay them money so you can leave the airport. You have hidden the small amount of money you have and you are not about to let these Cambodian police get it, so you lie and say, “I don’t have any money.” Eventually, they let you go.
You are alone in a new world. You cannot read the signs, you cannot understand the language, you have a little money. You look different than the locals. You are larger, weigh more, and have tattoos. The locals don’t like you. You are lost, have no job, no I.D., nowhere to go.
Unless you have distant family who will take you in, maybe your mom’s sibling, or a cousin, or aunt or uncle, you are on your own. For some strange reason, you think of the lyrics of the song by John Lennon:
He’s a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody. (1)
Lost, homesick, discouraged, scared, helpless. What will happen next?
This is the scenario of our Hope Now Cambodia staff and hundreds of others who have been deported to Cambodia. It makes no difference what one believes about deportation. Human beings need help. This is what Hope Now does. We seek new arrivals and try to help them get a semblance of order to their lives.
Our staff are suffering too. They too, like all other six-hundred plus men, have been deported. They too are homesick and discouraged, and wonder about their future. The difference is they have a support team by being on staff. Still, they have all the emotions and insecurities of the other men who arrive with no support.
On April 4th I arrive in Cambodia to help strengthen our staff there. I will lead a three-day conference for them entitled “Institute for Christian Leadership and Development.” This is our second annual event. Last year was a wonderful time sharing, learning, encouraging and supporting each other. This year will be exciting too.
Hope Now For Youth operates on a small budget in Cambodia. I want to see it grow so we can help more lost men! Will you help me? We pay our staff an embarrassingly low stipend. I want them to have more financial support so they can help others in need. Depending on how long I stay, my travel twice a year including airfare, hotel, food, and other financial help I bring with me, costs between $8,000 to $10,000.
Overall our annual budget is $20,000 to $25,000. These funds are designated for Cambodia and are above and beyond our U.S. budget which runs between $600K-$700K per year.
All gifts are tax-deductible. Will you help me? By clicking the Donate tab in the menu above, you can designate a specific gift for our Cambodia work. Your gift will encourage me as I know it will benefit our staff and the men in the cities of Phnom Penh and Battambang.
I will keep you updated along the way on this site, and at www. hopenow.org. Please help and give generously. You will be amazed at what a blessing your gifts have on me, our staff, and the rest of the destitute men. Help them move from being Nowhere men to Somewhere men. We can only imagine what their lives are like and the emotional turmoil they experience (along with their families left behind).
Take a look at some recent photos of our staff and the guys they work with. Check out the slideshow below.
I will lead a three-day training conference for our staff. Your gift help make this happen.
(1) Written by: JOHN LENNON, JOHN WINSTON LENNON, PAUL MCCARTNEY, PAUL JAMES MCCARTNEY
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC