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Lodi man deported to Cambodia

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Posted: Saturday, October 1, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 7:21 am, Sat Oct 1, 2011.

Bunly Bou knew he was no longer in America after watching a car accident on the frenetic, unruly streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

A man driving an expensive car rammed into a poor man on a motorcycle.

Even though it was his fault, the rich man got out of the car and started kicking the poor man while Bou watched in horror. Because the poor man had no money, the rich man took his motorcycle.

“Over here, if you are rich, you are rich. If you are poor, you are poor. There is no in-between,” Bunly said.

Early in September, the former Lodi resident found himself dropped into a country where he knows only one person and barely speaks the language. He left behind a wife and five children, all U.S. citizens.

Now, he struggles to find his way in an alien and hostile environment while his wife wrestles with making ends meet — and dreams of one day reuniting his family.

Since arriving in Cambodia, Bunly has experienced harder rain than he has ever seen in his life and often has to slosh through water up to his knees. He has already had to bribe officials, and he has been pick-pocketed.

“It’s not the best, but I’m free and alive,” Bunly said.

Bunly and his parents arrived in Stockton as refugees from Cambodia in 1983. He was 3 years old.

His problems started when he ran into trouble with the law in 2003 for drugs and 2005 for evading police. He served 16 months in prison and was released in 2007.

During the four years after he got out of prison, Bunly said he was a law-abiding citizen, worked full-time and took care of his children.

It took four years, but the United States and Cambodia eventually reached a deportation agreement.

In July, Bunly received a call from his wife while he was working at Round Table Pizza on Kettleman Lane, saying there were immigration officers at his house waiting to see him. He was taken into custody, spent a month and a half in the immigration area of the Sacramento County Jail, and then was deported.

“It breaks my heart being away from my kids. I was just getting my life back on track,” Bunly said.

‘I don’t even look Cambodian’

While on a cellphone in his one-room temporary home in Cambodia, Bunly answers the question of how he is doing with, “I’m breathing.”

Having few contacts and no memories of Cambodia has made daily life difficult.

“I ... have nothing out here. I came over with the clothes on my back,” Bunly said.

Bunly is living in a village outside of Phnom Penh, where he is constantly stared at by villagers.

His struggle started the second he got off the plane.

“The police were already asking for money. All of the police are corrupt over here,” Bunly said.

His family knew this would happen, so he had $100 sewn into his pants. His uncle, Song Im, had to take four of the top officials out to eat for a large meal to get Bunly through security without paying a monetary bribe.

“They are really poor over here, even if they are police they are still poor,” he said. “The meal was pretty extravagant. He didn’t have the money to do that.”

He feels lucky to have plumbing and electricity that flickers all day long at the temporary housing of his uncle’s nonprofit organization.

Im also immigrated in the early 1980s and was deported in 2002, Bunly said. Im’s nonprofit, Returnee Immigration Support Center, has helped 305 people transition from America to Cambodia.

Im, who works for less than $200 a month, said he helps immigrants get IDs and teaches them the basics of the language and cultural customs.

“They don’t speak Khmer and come to Cambodia, and that’s hard for them. I tell them, ‘You don’t understand, you have to listen more, you have to learn your language (again),’” Im said.

Because of budget cuts, the nonprofit has to move to a smaller house. Bunly will eventually have to move out of the housing, and will probably move into his uncle’s one-room hut.

His uncle is constantly watching over him because the country is not friendly to returnees from the United States.

“Take it step by step. Don’t rush into stuff because that’s when bad stuff happens,” Bunly said.

When Bunly first arrived, he had to get a haircut and his mustache and beard shaved off at a barber, because long hair is frowned upon in Cambodia. On his way to a haircut, a local kid waved him down, but he did not understand what the kid was saying.

After the haircut and shave, he realized he had been pick-pocketed when he reached in his pocket and his $10 was gone.

He has not yet been able to look for work because he needs to pay $200 for an ID. His uncle plans to take him to the countryside, where there is no running water or electricity, and offer a bribe for an ID.

“Everything over here is about money. If you don’t have money, you can’t do anything,” Bunly said.

Bunly eats what the nonprofit provides him or what his uncle’s wife cooks him, usually rice and vegetables.

“Rice — breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he said.

There are other deportees who are scattered throughout the country, but he has not yet met any of them because his uncle said many of them are on drugs or are alcoholics.

Bunly said he constantly feels like a target because everyone stares at him, especially because of his tattoos, which include his wife’s name, on his forearm.

“It’s very scary out here. I don’t want to go out, because I don’t fit in,” he said.

He rarely meets anyone who speaks English, and he can’t speak the little Cambodian he does know because it is so Americanized the locals think he is being disrespectful.

“I don’t even look Cambodian; they say I look like I’m a different race,” he said.

Bunly is working on reading and writing in Khmer, so he will be able to communicate with more people. He is ready to work and would like to teach English or eventually translate once he learns more Khmer.

“It would be something to keep me busy and keep my mind off thinking about my kids and my wife,” he said.

His homesickness flares the most at night when he is alone in his room.

“I can’t even describe it. Sometimes when I’m here by myself, I cry myself to sleep, but I’ll only sleep an hour before waking up again,” Bunly said.

Trying to get back to the U.S.

Bunly talks with his wife, Patricia, and his kids at least daily.

The 22-year-old is in the process of filing paperwork to get back into the United States.

The two met six years ago through mutual friends. She knew her husband had immigrated to Stockton from Cambodia.

When he arrived, the government gave him all the paperwork he needed, and told him to file for permanent citizenship after he turned 18 or got married.

As an adult, he never filed for permanent citizenship because he was always working good jobs with national companies like Big O Tires and Yoplait Yogurt, and didn’t feel like he needed to go through the process.

After getting into trouble and serving 16 months in prison, the United States started the deportation process, but ICE was not able to get travel documents to send him back to Cambodia.

He was released under supervision in 2007 and was required to check in every three months. In July, the travel documents cleared, so ICE took him into custody.

Bunly and Patricia, who is his common-law wife, hope his track record after getting out of prison will help with the appeal process.

He worked full-time at Round Table Pizza and paid his taxes.

He had two children with Patricia. He went to court to get full-time custody of his two oldest children, whom he had with another woman. He also paid child support for another child who lives with her mother in Stockton.

“I was working and spending time with my wife and family because I knew what I did in the past was wrong. I did a (180) from what I did,” Bunly said.

Bunly was told he is barred from the U.S. for at least 10 years from when the deportation process started in 2007.

“No, I don’t think it’s fair, because I did my time in prison already. I was obeying the laws and paying my taxes for years,” Bunly said.

However, there are extreme hardship waivers that a U.S. resident can file to bring their loved one back into the country sooner than 10 years, said Angelo Paparelli, a partner with Seyfarth Shaw Attorneys.

Paparelli, who is based out of Los Angeles and New York, handles immigration cases.

Patricia would need to first file an immigration visa petition with the United States Customs and Immigration Service, he said.

“They would decide if it was a marriage entered into to make a life together,” Paparelli said.

Then, she would need to file a waiver showing that his absence is an extreme hardship for her and her family.

Most people prove the hardship by getting expert testimony from a psychiatrist, sociologist or licensed social worker that “there is suffering beyond ordinary suffering,” Paparelli said.

Also, other evidence that someone was the sole breadwinner or the family will have to go on welfare without the other spouse is submissible.

The whole process takes about a year and a half, Paparelli said.

‘You are going to see daddy again, I’m going to bring him back’

Since Bunly has left, Patricia Bou said she has had a hard time making ends meet. She had to quit her job at Long John Silver’s to go on welfare, so she can take care of her four kids and work on her husband’s appeal.

“I feel pretty confident he will come back, but we just don’t know when,” she said.

The hardest part has been watching her four kids miss their dad.

She plans to eventually go visit or move to Cambodia with her two youngest children — 4-year-old son, Bara, and 3-year-old daughter, Dany. She plans to leave her 12-year-old son, Saahvin, and her 9-year-old daughter, Annastasia, in Stockton with family so they don’t miss out on their education.

Recently, the two oldest have said don’t want to stay here.

“Annastasia said, ‘You can’t leave me here. I already lost my dad. I don’t want to lose my mom,’” she said.

Dany is taking it the hardest, and cries all night, yelling, “Daddy, daddy, daddy!”

“The other three are going with the flow, and she is taking it much harder than anyone,” she said.

She has become more clingy, and Patricia said she hates watching her daughter be so depressed.

“I promise her all the time, ‘You are going to see daddy again, I’m going to bring him back,’” Patricia Bou said.

Bunly said he told her that it is her decision if she wants to come, but he is worried about her bringing the kids.

“There really is no education out here at all. If you do put your kids in school, you have to have money,” he said.

Despite the separation, the two have managed to keep a positive attitude. They both have faith they will be together — whether it is on Cambodian or U.S. soil.

“No matter how long it’s going to take, we are going to be here for each other, even if we are on the other side of the world. I look forward to our future and whatever has God planned,” Bunly said.

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinews.com.

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  • patricia bou posted at 3:03 pm on Sat, Oct 29, 2011.

    trisha bou Posts: 1

    had we known this would happen years later, even though he had begun living a stable crime free life. we would have gotten his citizenship after we got married back in 2008 me being a us citizen having absolutely no knowledge of any immigration laws or policies, i figured as long as we were married and he didnt get into anymore trouble things would be fine and eventually he would be taken off immigration probation after a period of time. he reported in person and over the phone every month to ins and worked everyday to support our family. he did get into trouble in the past and had served his time for those crimes, bunly is a very loving husband and father who would give the shirt off his back to anyone in need. our family has struggled a lot as a result of his deportation and he acknowledges the fact that he brought this on our family and has been working really hard to get himself established in cambodia so he can make a living and be able to support me and our children once we arrive there. we are a very close family and nothing can break us, god has a plan for everyone and even in times like this i know where i stand with the lord so i am going to see this through and not let it get the best of me. it may not be what i had planned for myself my husband or our children but as long as we are together it doesnt matter where we are. we do have a supportive family and have been blessed with people from all over giving us information about life in cambodia, my husband also has met other returnees that went to cambodia around the same time he did so it makes me feel better knowing he is not completely alone even though he doesnt have me and the kids. he attends church faithfully and has been going to the gym daily to release some of the stress in his body so overall his experience has been really good considering he knew nothing about the country and knew only one person there. for those who have negative things to say, you save it! our family has been through enough hardship and had we known the legalities we would have taken the steps to ensure he wouldnt be deported. it isnt like he was some gangster who just ran around causing trouble, he was a family man who worked hard to get his life back on track and was doing so well for the past four years. for the record we are legally married and have been since 2008 and as far as me being on welfare, i do not expect anyone to carry the burden of supporting my children financially or having to watch them while i work. all of our children`s lives we have both worked and paid taxes so in this time of need it is very comforting to have those government benefits and be able to stay home with my children who have already felt the pain of one parent`s absence. thank you to everyone who has left encouraging words for us to read and we will continue to remain positive through this, our main goal is to get our little family back together! _BOU FAMILY!

  • Joanne Bobin posted at 4:10 pm on Fri, Oct 7, 2011.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4308

    Ms. Bailey and others who have jumped to wrong conclusions and have gone off on ridiculous rants about illegals.

    This man was not an illegal alien. If anyone read the original story several weeks ago, it stated that he came here legally (with a green card) at age 3 as a refugee with his parents.

    The problem was, he should have applied for citizenship at 18. But since he commited a crime while he was still a resident alien, he was pegged for deportation, and I don't disagree that he should have been deported. Hope he has learned a lesson about getting his life in order. The consequences have obviously fallen to his "wife" and children.

  • Laura Rouzer posted at 12:53 pm on Fri, Oct 7, 2011.

    Laura Rouzer Posts: 55

    You break the law, you pay the price. He had ample opportunity to make it right but chose not to. He has nobody to blame but himself.

  • liz bailey posted at 12:18 pm on Fri, Oct 7, 2011.

    feed up Posts: 1

    great another woman on welfare there was no reason for her to quit her job she has family in stockton, who can help her with child care a place to live ect now we have to pay for her kids. They are not married so no doubt the tax payers paid for her to give birth, glad he is deported we need to deport all the illegalls stop giving them free rides. Clearly he was illegal for this guy to work, so Round Table Big O , Yoplait. should be held accountable, as like us normal folk who pay ss and taxes he did not did he have a fake ss card? I dont believe for a minute he paid taxes. What about the other kids he had is that woman on welfare as well.....DEPORT THEM ALL BRING DOWN THE UNEMPLOYMENT

  • Curt Dorsey posted at 8:57 am on Fri, Oct 7, 2011.

    Curt Dorsey Posts: 5

    Now this is an interesting concept...

    The DREAM Act would give temporary legal status to those who arrived in the United States by no choice of their own before age 16, have graduated from a U.S. high school and have no criminal record. Only those who arrived in the United States at least five years before the bill becomes law would be eligible. If they go to college or join the U.S. military, they can get a green card, a path to citizenship.

    No automatic citizenship – rather, an earned, limited privilege.

    Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/2011/05/18/3634464/should-congress-approve-a-law.html#ixzz1a6r8qyhX

    Of course the Senate didn't pass it. Politicians don't know how to make money,,,Only spend it.

    ...And why not reclassify illegal aliens as "Non-Legal" residents. They would not be eligible to receive any type of aid such as AFDC, WIC, welfare, etc., but would be allowed to live, work and pay taxes and insurance premiums like the rest of us.

    Think about the impact it would have on the economy if we deported a few million tax paying, Walmart shopping, car, house and food buying illegal resident.


  • Jocelyn Crenshaw posted at 6:59 pm on Thu, Oct 6, 2011.

    Jocelyn Crenshaw Posts: 20

    I feel bad for his children but really he had several oppotunities to avoid this. Also CA does not recognize common law spiuses, so she is not his wife. If she was then again he could have avoided this. We have laws in this countey and they need to be enforced otherwise we will turn into the exact type of country this article is complainibg about. If you are here undocumented/ illegally then you are breaking the law and that alone should get you deported. Sorry at some point this bleeding heart has bled out.

  • Jerome Kinderman posted at 6:03 pm on Sun, Oct 2, 2011.

    Jerome R Kinderman Posts: 2255

    "'No, I don’t think it’s fair, because I did my time in prison already. I was obeying the laws and paying my taxes for years,' Bunly said."

    Not fair; really? C'mon! This guy was advised to do some paperwork when he turned 18 in order to become a citizen, yet for some reason he believed he was exempt because he worked at Big O Tires and Yoplait Yogurt. Obviously that was "mistake" number one.

    But here's where I get the biggest chuckle is where actually believes that because of his stellar reputation since leaving prison that all of this shouldn't have happened to him. I guess the news flash for him should be it is precisely because of his lawlessness that has him sitting in Cambodia right now.

    I have the greatest sympathy for the family he had to leave behind. But considering the controversy over immigration these days, I doubt the ten-year waiting period will be waived anytime soon. I just hope he really doesn't expect his "wife" to pack up those kids and move them to a country where they'd likely have to share a one-room hut with their father's uncle. What a tragedy that would be.

  • Judy Crafton posted at 3:37 pm on Sat, Oct 1, 2011.

    Judy Posts: 2

    California does not have a "common law" spouse, could this be part of the problem with homeland security?



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