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I beg your pardon, Gov. Brown

For The Madera Tribune The Rev. Vanna In is shown here with his wife, Marly and their three children. In is facing deportation to Cambodia unless Gov. Jerry Brown grants the youth pastor a pardon.


I never thought that I would ever see the day that I would ask for mercy for an immigrant who had committed a felony. “Get’m out of here” was my mantra. Zero tolerance — give no quarter. That has always been my position, but that was before I heard about the plight of the Rev. Vanna In.

In is the youth pastor in my granddaughter’s church. He has been an unbelievable force in helping her face the vicissitudes of life against which 16-year-old girls (and boys for that matter) struggle. He has been the voice of calm and reason when it seemed as if there was nothing to be calm or reasonable about, but there is a problem. I don’t know how much longer he is going to be able to minister to these young people.

You see, In is an immigrant who was involved in a gang shooting and spent some time in jail. Now, at the age of 42, he is facing deportation to Cambodia, a place he has never seen.

In was brought to the United States 40 years ago at the age of two. When he was a teenager, he joined a gang and was involved in a drive-by shooting in which someone was killed. In calls it “the greatest regret of my life.” He was found guilty of second-degree murder and was sent to the California Youth Authority, where he served seven years.

It was while he was incarcerated that he joined a Bible study. As a result he embraced the Christian faith and became a leader of the group for four years.

After his release, In found a job in 2001 with Hope Now For Youth. Subsequent to that, he began to make anti-gang presentations, conduct workshops, and give speeches in public schools.

At the same time a deportation order was issued, which was intended to send him to Cambodia. However, Cambodia wasn’t taking back its citizens. (Although he was born in Vietnam, In is considered a Cambodian national.)

Even though he was under the threat of deportation, he continued his work with young people and pursued an education. He earned an Associate of Arts degree from Fresno City College, a Bachelor’s degree from Fresno Pacific University and a Master’s in Art from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary.

While In was with Hope Now For Youth, he held the title of “Vocational Placement Counselor” and helped lead over 125 young men into full-time employment.

Rev. In is currently serving as the Student Ministries Pastor at North Fresno Mennonite Brethren Church, where he is a licensed minister. He is responsible for the spiritual development of 7th-12th graders and young adults up to the age of 29. He also volunteers as a coach at a low-income elementary school.

In and his wife, Marly, share a 3-bedroom apartment with their three children and his mother-in-law. All except Rev. In are United States citizens.

Although In’s story is miraculous on the face of it, deportation remains a troubling possibility. Although he has changed, his criminal record remains and with it the specter of being separated from his family and his life’s work.

A presidential executive order has directed the Department of Homeland Security to prioritize the removal of undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of any criminal offense.

Since the time of his deportation order, In has been checking with ICE, as he is required to do. The last time was in February.

In told this writer in a telephone interview that although the threat of being deported is always hanging over his head, he decided a long time ago to press on and make the most of every day that he has left in America. Still, “There’s always a high level of anxiety,” says In. “They can take me anytime.”

However, there is a modicum of hope on the horizon. A gubernatorial pardon could give In a chance to take his case back to an immigration judge, who could overturn his deportation order. It’s happened before. Just last month, a pardon from Gov. Brown got national attention for clearing the way for deported Army veteran Hector Barajas to return home and become a citizen.

In says a pardon from Brown “gives me a glimmer of hope that I could possibly be a citizen of this great nation — and I never thought that was possible, and now there’s some hope. There’s some hope that this country can continue to be forgiving.”

There is a petition being circulated on Facebook, and I have signed it. It urges the Governor to grant the pardon. I sure hope he reads it. What a shame it would be for us to lose Rev. Vanna In.

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