By Rich Cholodofsky
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Convicted killer Loeun Heng walked out of a Massachusetts detention center a free man last fall.
The illegal alien from Cambodia was supposed to be deported after serving almost a decade in prison for killing a 16-year-old boy in a Boston suburb.
But Cambodia is among several countries that won't take their citizens back when the United States wants to jettison them.
Officials from Immigration and Custom Enforcement, or ICE, detained Heng for six months as they tried to ship him out.
Since 2008, ICE has been forced to release 1,741 illegal immigrants because their home countries would not allow deportation, said Harold Ort, an ICE spokesman in Newark.
Heng, 26, and three other men in the Blood Red Dragons gang attacked, stabbed and beat 16-year-old Charles Ashton Cline-McMurray in Revere, Mass., on Oct 13, 2000. Prosecutors worry ICE won't be able to deport the other killers when they get out of prison.
In the wake of Heng's release, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on the immigration issue.
Mark Krikorian, executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based think tank, said U.S. policy is being dictated by unfriendly, uncooperative foreign governments — such as Cuba, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos — that continuously refuse to allow their undesirable citizens to be deported.
The U.S. House Immigration Reform Caucus is examining the issue.
"How many more innocent people have to die because of these failed policies? What part of illegal don't people understand?" said U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-California, who chairs the reform caucus.
"Illegal immigrants should be kept behind bars until they are deported. A deputy sheriff was killed last year in my region by an illegal alien who slipped through our system. We must fight to ensure that criminal aliens are not released into the public," Bilbray said.
A local member of the reform caucus, U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, declined comment after repeated requests for an interview.
"It's disappointing and frustrating that federal authorities have been unable to deport Loeun Heng. Our understanding is that ICE took every possible step in this case, but circumstances like Heng's really erode public confidence in the system," said Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Don Conley.
Last month, as he was being led from a Westmoreland County courtroom, a convicted sex offender from Vietnam told his lawyer that he will never be deported.
Dung Le, 40, pleaded guilty to failing to register on time as a sex offender in Pennsylvania. He was sentenced to one to five years in prison.
"He's of the opinion he won't be deported," defense attorney Patricia Elliott said.
Le might be right.
In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that immigration detainees must be released from custody if they cannot be deported within six months.
That ruling centered on German national Kestutis Zadvydas, a cocaine dealer imprisoned for 16 years. In 1994, immigration officials tried to deport him to Germany and then Lithuania, his parents' country of origin. Neither country wanted him.
By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled the United States had to release Zadvydas from custody, saying it was unlikely he would ever be deported.
Ort said ICE is forced to release illegal aliens if they are unable to deport them within the 180-day period. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, they can ignore that requirement under very limited circumstances, "including a threat to national security, adverse foreign policy consequences or contagious disease concerns."
"There has been a lax attitude toward enforcement," said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform in Washington. "We no longer have a choice. We as a matter of law should be in control of our own immigration policy."
Krikorian said Congress needs to change immigration law to close the loophole left open by the Supreme Court. "Congress needs to push back. We need to make sure that countries that don't take people back know we're not going to issue entrance visas to their citizens," Krikorian said.
Le might slip through the loophole.
Le came last year to work at a Rostraver nail salon. He legally entered the United States in 1993, according to ICE records. In 2004, he was convicted in Vermont of a felony count of lewd and lascivious behavior for improperly touching a woman at a nail salon where he worked. He served about one year in a Vermont jail and then left the United States, ICE said.
Ort said Le tried to return through Honolulu International Airport on Oct. 15, 2005, when he applied for admission back into the country. Le was ordered to appear before an immigration judge.
U.S. Immigration Judge Dayna Beamer in Honolulu ordered that Le be deported back to Vietnam. He was released in 2006 when immigration officials could not do so.
Le resurfaced in Rostraver and was arrested after he was late in registering as a sex offender with Pennsylvania State Police.
"Every alien's removal requires the cooperation of another country. Thus, the difficulties involved in deporting aliens with final orders of removal are not unique to Mr. Le's case. In fact, some countries flatly refuse to accept their nationals back into their communities, while others might simply prolong and delay the issuance of the necessary travel documents for repatriation," Ort said.
It is believed convicted killer Heng is living somewhere near Boston. Local officials are concerned about two other defendants who pleaded guilty in the gang slaying, two more illegal aliens who would be subject to deportation upon release.
Viseth Sao pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison, but he is eligible for parole in 2016.
Savoeun Heng, 26, and Savoeun Po, 26, pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Savoeun Heng received a 12- to 14-year sentence. Po was sentenced to eight to 10 years.
ICE will try to deport Savoeun Heng and Savoeun Po upon their release.