Saturday, February 25, 2012


On December 2, 1980, eight months after the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, four American women were raped and murdered in El Salvador.  Three were nuns; the fourth was a lay missionary.  This brutal act was part of an escalating war being waged by the right-wing Salvadoran government against the Salvadoran people and the Catholic Church.

In 1993, a UN-sponsored truth commission issued a report entitled From Madness to Hope:  The 12-Year War in El Salvador:  Report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador.  Among its many conclusions regarding various atrocities committed during El Salvador's decade-long civil war was this one:  General (then Colonel) Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova had deliberately covered up facts during earlier investigations to obscure the truth about the murders.  Gen. Vides was head of El Salvador's National Guard when the murders occurred; he later became minister of defense.  The murders, it should be noted, were committed by members of the National Guard.

On Wednesday, in an immigration court in Florida, Judge James Grim ruled that there are valid grounds to begin deportation proceedings against Gen. Vides under a 2004 law that bars those who have committed human rights violations from entering or remaining in the United States.  The case for Gen. Vides' deportation was brought by the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the urging of the Center for Justice and Accountability.  This is the first time a high-ranking military officer from another country has been subjected to deportation proceedings as a result of responsibility for human rights abuses.

Deportation seems just under the circumstances.

Deportation doesn't seem so just, however, in this next case.

Kosal Khiev was born in 1980 in a refugee camp on the Thai- Cambodian border.  His parents, both Khmer (Cambodian), had fled the genocidal regime of Pol Pot, which, between 1975 and 1979, murdered approximately 1.7 million Cambodians.  In 1981, the family gained the sponsorship of a church in North Carolina and came to the United States seeking political asylum.  After a short stay in North Carolina, the family moved to the projects of Santa Ana, California.

As a teenager, Kosal joined a gang.  In this respect, he was like far too many immigrant children growing up poor in an American city.  At 16, he and other gang members were involved in a shootout at a party.  Tried as an adult for attempted murder, Kosal was sentenced to 16 years in prison.  He served 14 years, during which he discovered spoken word poetry as a means of expressing--and reforming--himself.  Upon his release from prison (never having become a U.S. citizen in spite of having lived virtually his entire life in North Carolina and California), he was deported to Cambodia, a place he had never been before.

In Phnom Penh, Kosal is artist-in-residence with Studio Revolt, the producer of this short film called "My Asian Americana" about Khmer Exiled Americans:

The message that Kosal and others convey in this film is simple:  "I'm an exiled American.  I can't go home."
For more about Kosal Khiev, see his website is here--or listen to this Australian radio documentary about him here.

And if you'd like to give the makers of this film a chance to take their message to the White House, you can go here to vote for "My Asian Americana" in the "What's Your Story" Video Challenge being sponsored by the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.