Freed From San Quentin and Facing Deportation, a Prison Activist Seeks Newsom Pardon

It should have been a joyous day in the life of Phoeun You.

On Jan. 5, 2022, after serving 25 years behind bars for a murder when he was 20 years old, the Cambodia-born man, now 47, was paroled from San Quentin a decade ahead of schedule.

The Board of Parole let him out 10 years early in recognition of his commitment to service, mentorship and rehabilitation.

Decision makers at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had the discretion to release You, but they chose to collaborate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and transferred him to the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Facility in Bakersfield, where he has remained since.

His early release could have provided a gateway to a better future for a man who transformed his life while behind bars after a series of enormous setbacks starting soon after his birth. Instead, it set a clock ticking toward the end of his time in the United States, a country in which he has lived since he was a young child.

What happens next is uncertain, but the most likely outcome is his expulsion from the United States to Cambodia — a country he doesn’t remember. There is also a small chance that Gov. Gavin Newsom could pardon him, after which You could start a legal process to reopen his removal order and have his status as a legal permanent resident reinstated.

Cambodians who have faced deportation have told him that after travel documents are issued, deportation typically follows within two weeks to a month. You’s paperwork has been finalized. “Time is moving so quickly. It’s already passed the one-week mark,” You said in a July 17 interview. “My small window of hope is closing.”

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