Straight Outta the Bronx: A Cambodian Rickshaw Driver - OZY | A Modern Media Company


Because hundreds of people are deported from the U.S. every day.

By Jodi Hilton & Matt Surrusco

Amid the throngs of tuk-tuk drivers competing for fares in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 49-year-old Luka Meas stands out. Largely because of his Bronx-accented English.

After surviving the Khmer Rouge regime, Meas and his family immigrated to New York in 1981. He never became a U.S. citizen, so after serving time for a drug conviction, he was detained by U.S. immigration authorities and, in 2011, deported to his native Cambodia, a country he no longer recognized, leaving his family behind.

A deal between the two countries to resume deportations was agreed upon earlier this year, after the U.S. had briefly imposed visa sanctions on Cambodia.

At a time when President Donald Trump is calling for immigrants with criminal convictions to be deported, dozens more Cambodian refugees who are deportable under U.S. immigration laws because of felony convictions are expected to be deported this year, adding to the more than 600 deported since 2002. According to data from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, more than 1,900 Cambodian nationals are liable to be deported from the U.S. — and more than 1,400 of those have criminal convictions.


A deal between the two countries to resume deportations was agreed upon earlier this year, after the U.S. had briefly imposed visa sanctions on Cambodia for refusing to accept deported citizens.

Now those with a one-way ticket “home” return to a country that, still healing from the genocide of the late 1970s, is proving a puzzle to be negotiated.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly dated the family’s immigration to the United States in 1980. 

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