Story of the Original Minnesota 8
In August 2016, eight Cambodian Americans from Minnesota—collectively known as the MN8—were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), including the youngest brother of our Executive Director/Co-Founder, Montha. The MN8 were going to be deported to Cambodia, where most of them wouldn’t know how to read or write in the language, let alone were even born. The majority were actually born in refugee camps outside of Cambodia. Yet they were sent to meet with the Cambodian Consulate and forced to sign travel documents in a language that they didn’t comprehend.
Their families—primarily women, elders, & children—rallied around them and fought back by organizing their community. This started the #ReleaseMN8 grassroots campaign, a uniquely intergenerational movement led by family members who had never organized before. They mobilized the support of community members, attorneys, other orgs, & members of Congress—rallying outside of Senator Amy Klobuchar’s office, at local community centers, and even in D.C. to speak with the Cambodian ambassador. At these events were babies, Khmer elders who have since passed away, community advocates, the news, and more. Alongside their organizing and fighting, the MN8’s loved ones drove for hours to pay to visit their loved ones for just 30 minutes via video call.
The enormous efforts of the MN8, their loved ones, and community supporters sparked national attention and led to the eventual release of 3 of the 8 men. Our story begins with these eight remarkable individuals and their loved ones.
Chamroeun “Shorty” Phan (he/him) was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. He came to the United States as a 1-year-old with his parents and siblings. He has worked as a computer manufacturer in Eagan over the past 10 years. He lives in Maplewood, MN with his wife, Ketwalee, and two daughters, Leala & Lydia. In his free time, Chamroeun loves fishing with his family and being active in church. He was detained on August 29, 2016, and released on September 18, 2017.
Chan Om (he/him) came to the United States at age 10 as a refugee. He was respected at his job as a mechanic and volunteered at a Buddhist temple in Hampton, MN. Chan was engaged to be married and had become a father figure to several stepchildren and grandchildren. He was detained on August 26, 2016, and deported on March 28, 2017. Chan is currently trying to rebuild his life in Phnom Penh.
Chan Ouch (he/him) came to the United States at the age of 12 with his parents and five younger siblings. He has adult children and was a father figure to his nieces and nephews. Chan loved spending time with his family in Savage, MN. He was detained on August 26, 2016, and deported on March 28, 2017. He lives in Phnom Penh and has opened a convenience store and tattoo shop.
Ched Nin (he/him) was born and raised in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines before arriving in the United States as a 6-year-old. He grew up in Faribault, MN, where he met his wife, Jenny. Together, they take care of their children and elderly parents. Ched has worked as a carpenter for the past 20 years and is active in his neighborhood and community. He was detained by ICE on August 26, 2016, and released on February 24, 2017.
Phoeuy Chuon (he/him) was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. He was three years old when he came to the United States with his mother and siblings. He was living happily in St. Paul with his wife, Raeann, and two stepchildren for more than 10 years before his whole life changed. Phoeuy was detained on August 26, 2016, and deported on March 28, 2017. He is trying to rebuild his life in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Ron An (he/him) was born in a refugee camp in the Philippines. He was three months old when his family resettled in the United States. Ron lived in Rochester, MN, with his five children and surrounded by his parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, and friends. He was in ICE custody for nine months before his deportation on March 28, 2017. Ron lives along the Cambodian coast in Kampot and plans to run a gym.
Sameth Nhean (he/him) was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and moved to the United States at the age of 2. He and his wife, Sokha, live in Lonsdale with their four children. Sameth enjoys fishing with his family, doing home improvement projects, and fine-tuning cars. He has worked as a supervisor for a wire cloth company for the past 16 years. He was detained on August 26, 2016, and released on August 7, 2017 to be reunited with his family.
Soeun “Posy” Chheng (he/him) came to the United States as a toddler with his parents who were refugees. He was well-loved by his community, especially at the barbershop where he worked in Willmar, MN. Posy was detained on August 29, 2016 and deported on May 2, 2017. He has been living in Cambodia and, in May 2018, celebrated the opening of his barbershop in Phnom Penh. As a child of God, Posy feels inspired knowing that each day is an opportunity to leave a positive impact on others.