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Ched Nin to be separated from five kids, deported to a country he's never been to

Ched Nin and Jenny Srey on their wedding day with three of their children. The youngest, Viance, suffers from a congenital heart condition.

Ched Nin and Jenny Srey on their wedding day with three of their children. The youngest, Viance, suffers from a congenital heart condition.

Jenny Srey hasn't seen her husband in a month. She isn't even sure where he is.

Since September 7, when Ched Nin was arrested during a routine check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), he's been shipped all over the country as part of a nation-wide sweep of ethnic Cambodians tapped for deportation.

The last she heard he was just being transferred out of a holding cell in Alexandria, La. They talked about how he thought he was being sent back to Minnesota, but he couldn't be sure exactly when.

"He got emotional, I got emotional because we hadn't seen each other since he left," Srey said. "Not being able to see each other is probably the toughest part. Even when he does come here, I have to see him through video chat. I really would like contact visits because when he got taken, my family and I didn't get to give him a hug, or anything like that."

Nin is marked for deportation because he pleaded guilty in 2010 to assault with a BB gun and served two years for it. A 1996 law, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), makes it mandatory to deport non-citizens with any criminal record, and removes much discretion from judges to evaluate their cases individually.

If only ICE would listen, Srey says, they could see that Nin doesn't belong in Cambodia. After all, he's never been there.

He was born in a Thai refugee camp to Cambodian parents fleeing the Khmer Rouge genocide in 1979, when millions of people were murdered by communist revolutionaries. He was six when he and his family landed in Minnesota. He grew up a green card-carrying permanent resident of America.

He now works as a carpenter to support two sons and three daughters. The youngest, at 14, suffers from a congenital condition that has required three heart surgeries. Doctors predict she won't live past 25. Nin is also the primary caretaker of an elderly father. And, Srey says, he is the love of her life.

"The boys are struggling. We have conferences [on Friday] and I had to ask the teachers to give them an extension so they could retake some of their tests that they haven't done so well on. One of my sons had to drop out of an elective class and take a study hall so it could help him focus on the core classes that he has. And I feel like they're trying to escape this reality we're through, you know, by requesting to go out and see friends more. It's all the same at home. I thought I'd take them swimming, and my son said, 'It's no fun without Ched.'"

Eventually, Nin and the other Cambodian American deportees rounded up around the country arrived at the Cambodian consulate in California, where they were interviewed about their lives and worthiness to stay in America. He may soon be put on a flight back to Minnesota, where he will likely be imprisoned at Sherburne County Jail.

There's no telling how long the deportation proceedings will take from there.

That Nin was not actually born in Cambodia, and has never seen Cambodia, may not prevent his deportation, says Katrina Dixon Mariategue of the Southeast Asian Resources Action Center, an organization that advocates for Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans.

Since 2002, when Cambodia entered into a repatriation treaty with America to regulate deportations, nearly 700 people like Nin have been forcibly relocated to the country of their parents. Most of these deportees are young men who were born in refugee camps and grew up in America. Many left behind wives and children.

Nin's attorney has filed a motion for post-conviction relief on the grounds that Nin's deportation would subject his family to excessive hardship.