New Way Forward Act Gets Second Life With Reintroduction Under New Congress

This landmark legislation re-envisions the United States’ severely flawed and racist immigration enforcement system.
For Immediate Release
Contact
Michelle Boykins 202-296-2300, ext. 0144 mboykins@advancingjustice-aajc.org
Elaine Sanchez Wilson (202) 601-2970 elaine@searac.org

Washington, D.C. - Asian Americans Advancing Justice and Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) applaud the reintroduction of the New Way Forward Act by Reps. Jesús  “Chuy'' García, Pramila Jayapal, Karen Bass, and Ayanna Pressley. Key components of the bill include:

  • Eliminating mandatory detention

  • Redefining convictions

  • Ending deportations based on certain convictions

  • Restoring judicial discretion for immigration judges

  • Creating a five-year statute of limitations for deportability

  • Establishing an opportunity to come home for certain deported individuals or non-citizens in deportation proceedings

Advancing Justice and SEARAC issues the following joint statement:

“This landmark legislation re-envisions the United States’ severely flawed and racist immigration enforcement system. The New Way Forward Act would restore fundamental due process protections and compassion back to our immigration system. For the last several years, our country’s outdated and unjust immigration laws have been used to deport our communities at an unprecedented level. 

As we look to eliminate mass incarceration and create a racially just society, the New Way Forward Act is an essential step toward justice and equity for immigrant and refugee communities. We need to provide a way for those individuals who were unjustly removed to have the opportunity to come home and be reunited with their families.”

Background:

If enacted, the New Way Forward Act would have helped some individuals like Sophorn San reopen their cases despite already being deported. Sophorn was an immigrant from Cambodia who immigrated to Rhode Island in 1996 after his family obtained legal residency through family sponsorship. In 2010, at age 19, Sophorn pleaded guilty to possession of a handgun without a permit and was sentenced to six months in prison with 56 months probation. His attorney advised him to take a plea deal, though neither knew at the time that Sophorn would become deportable because of it. After he was released from ICE detention, he started working and moved in with his girlfriend and her two children. On December 17, 2018, he was deported to Cambodia. Had the New Way Forward Act been enacted, Sophorn would likely be back with his family in the United States. Sophorn unfortunately passed away a year later in a motorcycle collision in Cambodia at the age of 27.

Many Southeast Asian American (SEAA) refugees were resettled into low-income neighborhoods after fleeing violence during the Vietnam War, Cambodian Genocide, and Secret War in Laos. Many struggled to get by due to lack of social services, economic opportunity, and language access, and some individuals entered the criminal legal system. The 1996 immigration laws (the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act) established mandatory detentions and automatic deportations, heavily expanded crimes considered deportable, and restricted judicial discretion for many immigration cases. Because of the retroactive nature of these laws, many SEAA refugees suddenly became deportable overnight for convictions prior to 1996. Though many have already served their time, have families, and have turned their lives around, Immigration and Customs Enforcement continues to detain and deport SEAAs. 2,000 SEAAs have been deported from the United States since 1998. Roughly 15,000 SEAAs currently live with a final order of removal, and about 80% of those removal orders are based on past convictions.