Sentenced Home aired back in 2007 on Independent Lens and put a human face on a controversial immigration policy. The film followed three young Cambodian Americans, raised in inner-city Seattle, each of whom faced deportation for mistakes they made as teenagers. Filmmakers Nicole Newnham and David Grabias provide an update on the case of Many Uch, one of the three subjects featured in Sentenced Home.
In June, 2007, Many Uch decided to apply for a pardon for his 1994 crime from Christine Gregoire, the governor of Washington State. Although we knew it was a long shot, it was something that we had been hoping he would do for quite a while. We met Many while filming Sentenced Home in 2003, and we were struck by his gentle soul and his extraordinarily thoughtful perspective on his difficult situation: in limbo, living with the constant threat of an order of deportation to Cambodia.
From our first interviews with him for the documentary, it was clear he hoped that telling his story would be a way to educate and help others in his community. But we could not have foreseen his evolution into a pivotal community activist, envisioning a better future for his people, and tirelessly working to make that happen. When Sentenced Home was released Many and his wife, Sophany, sacrificed to make sure he could travel with the film all over the country. He has continued to give his time to speak in at schools and youth groups to support gang prevention, at various community events, and even before the United States Congress on the subject of deportation and immigration law.
Inspired by the activists and community leaders he met speaking in different cities with the film, Many returned to Seattle and helped found and lead, Khmer in Action, an outfit designed to build a strong and loving community of Khmer people working together to create equality for sociopolitical justice. Many was reluctant when his attorney began discussing with him the option of a Governor's pardon. He didn't want to do anything that might help him but not others in his situation.
Eventually he came to hope that his pardon might pave the way for others to follow and would help the case for the law to be reformed. Although Gov. Gregoire is known for taking pardons extremely seriously and granting them rarely, her pardon board was overwhelmingly impressed by Many's contribution to his community and unanimously recommended that she consider pardoning his crime. Last month, we were elated to learn that the governor decided to grant him an unconditional pardon for his crime.
One might think that having served his time for his crime in 1994 with good behavior, having lived a crime-free life since, having become a pillar of his community, holding a job, and raising a beautiful daughter, Many Uch would at last be free of the specter of deportation. But in fact, the governor's pardon is only the beginning of that quest — he must now ask to have his case reopened and for the court to expunge his crime. Still, it's an exceedingly meaningful expression of justice. The letter that accompanied Many's pardon said that by her action, the governor "intends to encourage Mr. Uch and help him realize his aspirations." We have no doubt but that it will.
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