Thisaphone Sothiphakhak, 39, was handcuffed in his Minneapolis home by Immigration Enforcement agents, stuffed in the back of a squad car and booked into jail. There he stayed for two weeks without a hearing before being served with an order for deportation.
Sothiphakhak is a Laotian refugee who flew to America when he was four years old, on the heels of a father who’d fought in the Vietnam War on the side of Americans against the brewing communist insurgency. Sothiphakhak lived his whole life in Minnesota, spinning discs at Club Jager as DJ Teace and working part-time at a cheese shop in the Midtown Global Market.
But in 1997, Sothiphakhak was busted for picking up a package stuffed with nearly two pounds of weed from the post office. A friend had asked him to do it as a favor. He didn’t ask any questions.
He ended up serving less than two weeks in the Dakota County workhouse. The friend disappeared.
Eighteen years after Sothiphakhak got the drug charge expunged, ICE suddenly caught wind of the original charge of fifth-degree possession of marijuana and filed for deportation.
It would be a long, encumbered process of proving to the government that his life was based in America, that he’d never known another country, and probably couldn’t survive anywhere else. Laos doesn’t have a repatriation treaty with the United States anyway, his lawyer, Matt Streff, argued. Even if Sothiphakhak were ordered deported to his country he’d only known as an infant, Laos wouldn’t take him back. They submitted an application for relief from deportation. City Pages covered his story in April.
Wednesday morning, Sothiphakhak reported to Judge William Nickerson Jr. for his final hearing. He wore a sleeveless black shirt imprinted with “Illegal” across the chest in a sign of protest.
The prosecutor made no objections to his petition to stay in the country, presumably cognizant that Sothiphakhak was no drug dealer or murderer, the likes of which Immigration is supposed to be working around the clock to kick out of the country.
“Can you promise me you’ll stay out of trouble?” Nickerson asked Sopithakak. “I need to stress this is a one-time grant. If you end up back here, I’ll have no choice but to order you deported.”
“I’ll try to,” Sothiphakhak answered. “I’m a fairly decent guy.”
The judge threw up his hands. “You can all go.”
Outside the courtroom, Sothiphakhak embraced his red-faced lawyer and shook his stepdad’s hand.
“No compromise, the dude abides,” he said to the friends who supported him through the four-month ordeal.
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