"[I] went to heaven, and came straight back to hell," says one Cambodian American in the documentary Resident Aliens.
Imagine having your entire life flipped upside-down, and everything you've ever known— your family and your friends—being taken away from you.
Sadly, some people don't have to imagine this—for them, it is reality. Under the United States' Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, this is happening to non-citizens of the United States who have committed felonies. The government doesn't care if you have children or if you sincerely wish to turn over a new leaf; people are simply deported to the country that they originated from, no questions asked.
For Cambodians, this matter is even worse. Many came to America as children to escape the genocide that killed off 20% of Cambodia's people, but are being forced to leave from a place they know as home and sent back to the violent hell that they've escaped from. "Our own people don't want us here," notes a male deportee in the documentary.
Cambodian Americans are being deported to a country almost completely foreign to them, a country they only know through their parents, experiencing culture shock, and being forced to rebuild their lives with almost nothing. "I'm separated from my family, and I'll probably never, ever see them again," a female Cambodian American reflects in Resident Aliens, knowing what she's experiencing is real.
Resident Aliens brings awareness to this major flaw of the United States' government policy. "Their entire lives have become more like jail sentences, says Ross Tuttle, the producer of the documentary.
Resident Aliens brings hope that families can be reunited and that others will not have to go through the same experience that 200 deportees have already gone through.