[Published in the Khmer Times on September 29, 2017. This is an updated version of an article first written in 2002 but not published anywhere except on this blog.]
Cambodian-US relations are currently being strained by a 15-year-old agreement under which the United States was allowed to send back to this country some 1,400 Cambodian immigrants who were convicted of crimes in the US – an agreement that the Cambodian government believes is inhumane and should be renegotiated. To find out more about the planned repatriation, I interviewed Mr. Bucky “John” Botulism, the First and a Half Secretary of the US embassy.
Mr. Botulism, why does the United States want to return these 1,400 immigrants to Cambodia?
It’s quite simple. These people are criminals, law breakers. The United States is a law-abiding society which has no room for such people.
But crimes are committed in every country. Is the US really more opposed to crime than other societies?
Indeed we are. For example, we have a greater percentage of our population in prison than any other country in the world; clearly, that indicates a commitment to stamping out crime. We are also very careful not to allow criminal foreigners to enter our country.
Yes, you carry out quite strict investigations of a person’s background before giving them an immigrant visa, don’t you?
So you’re confident that none of those 1,400 immigrants had a criminal background here in Cambodia?
Well, we’re not perfect – although we’re working on it, ha ha – so it’s possible that one or two might have fooled our investigators. But it’s not likely. In fact, most of them were small children when they came.
So these people weren’t criminals when they lived in Cambodia. They became criminals in the US. And now that they’re criminals, you want to send them to Cambodia?
Of course. Why would we want to have Cambodian criminals living in the US?
Don’t you think that’s a bit unfair?
It certainly is. We, in complete good faith, give immigrant visas to these certified law-abiding people. We welcome them into our law-abiding, crime-hating society. And how do they repay our generosity? By becoming criminals! Not only that, but some of them are hardly more than kids when they land in jail!
But is it possible that something they experienced in the United States might have caused them to break the law?
Hey, I already told you: We hate crime so much that our police are allowed to shoot people dead just on suspicion. So why would we encourage anyone to become a criminal? Don’t be ridiculous!
What I don’t understand is why these people who weren’t criminals before they emigrated to the US became criminals in the US.
Well, look, there was obviously something wrong with them to start with, wasn’t there? I mean, if they were qualified to be good Americans, why were they born in Cambodia? Cambodians themselves will tell you: it must have been because they did something wrong in a previous life.
So is there any plan to have visa checks include applicants’ behaviour in previous existences?
Hey, you know, that’s not a bad idea … But probably the crypto-terrorists on the Supreme Court would prohibit it.