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LA Times: Tin Nguyen’s prison sentence was commuted, but he landed in ICE detention. Here’s his path to freedomDecember 22, 2020
This LA Times article recounts Vietnamese refugee Tin Tri Nguyen’s journey to freedom, which was prolonged when US Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained him for nine months upon his release from state prison.
O’Melveny partner Laurel Loomis Rimon and associates Ben Seelig and Alexander Duran advocated for Nguyen’s release, with allies that included Cal State L.A.’s Center for Engagement, Service and the Public Good, VietRISE, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and CARECEN.
“Tin had really stood out and had the support of everyone — from the governor through the commutation of his sentence, to professors at Cal State LA, to the people he worked with in the program for dog training. He had a very compelling story,” said Rimon.
LA Times reported that the team pursued multiple legal avenues, including a habeas corpus petition that challenged the unconstitutional length of Nguyen's detention, noted his increased risk of contracting COVID-19, and pointed to a 2008 Memorandum of Understanding between Vietnam and the US under which refugees like Nguyen who arrived to the US prior to 1995 are shielded from deportation.
“Throughout the case, we found it hard to get a full assessment of what the process behind the scenes was for getting contractual documents for how decisions pertaining to [Nguyen’s] custody were made,” Seelig said. “Even through our interactions with the government attorney, it seemed like he was somewhat in the dark as well. I think it’s the broader policy towards these pre-1995 individuals as to whether they’re detainable … or whether it’s a case by case basis. It’s still a mystery to us.”
The article noted that Nguyen sends the O’Melveny team updates on his new life since his release. “He sent us a picture of his first free sunset. … We think of him as a friend now,” Duran said.
LA Times subscribers can read the full article here.