Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) Organizer Phal Sok, formerly incarcerated and targeted for deportation by ICE, shares his story to emphasize the need to reform “crimmigration,” the intersection of criminal law and immigration policy.
As an infant, Phal Sok and his family were granted permanent resident status in the U.S. after fleeing the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia and spending time in a refugee camp in Thailand. When they arrived in Los Angeles, they were forced to navigate a whole new way of life and Phal's parents did not do well. They divorced before Phal's third birthday and his mother never turned back. As a youth, Phal's father passed away and he was left without resources. When he went to his school seeking support, he was pushed out. Soon thereafter, he was arrested for armed robbery, tried as an adult, and sentenced to prison for 23 years and eight months.
In 2015, Phal was one of the first and few that was granted parole thanks to SB-260, a bill that recognized juveniles should not be treated as adults. On the day of his release from prison, despite having permanent resident status and having gone through a vigorous parole suitability process, Phal was arrested and detained for ICE. He was ordered deported and eventually temporarily released pending deportation. Before he was re-detained by ICE four months later, Phal connected with community members in L.A. including a local church who encouraged him to fight his deportation. He filed on his own in the federal courts and was later released in late November 2016 under bond. He began to organize in L.A. and became a member of YJC working on "crimmigration."
In 2018, he received a full and unconditional pardon from then-Governor Jerry Brown to help protect him from deportation. As an organizer, he has given back to his community in L.A., supporting immigrant youth and formerly incarcerated people. He has played key roles in YJC campaigns such as stopping the construction of new jails in L.A. County and YJC's FREE L.A. High School.
Photo courtesy of Phal Sok.