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Cambodians Throw Support Behind Liberal Initiatives in California

FILE - Cambodian-Americans in California held a protest in Sacramento,California. (Courtesy: Song Yoeng Ratana)

Propositions 55 and 57 received a large number of votes on the same day as president-elect Donald Trump won the general election.

Voters in California have approved two propositions that Cambodian community activists in Long Beach had hoped would help solve educational and legal challenges faced by Cambodian-American youths.

Propositions 55 and 57 received a large number of votes on the same day as president-elect Donald Trump won the general election.

Proposition 55 allows for an extension of income tax on those earning over $250,000 per year, with the funding planned for education and healthcare programs.

Proposition 57 will increase sentencing credits for inmates who complete rehabilitation programs, allowing non-violent offenders to seek parole after completing their base sentences.

Sophya Chhiv, program director at Khmer Girls in Action (KGA), which campaigned for the propositions, said the result would impact many in the community.

“And our community know those who have been incarcerated or who have dropped out of school or got kicked out of schools or who haven’t been able to go to higher education because of the education system.”

Chhiv blamed the public school system for not providing support to students who need it.

“The zero tolerance policy in Long Beach is actually pushing students out versus thinking about their future,” she said.

The drop out rate among Cambodian-Americans is high, while truancy rates are above 70 percent in some areas and more than half grow up in poverty, according to KGA.

The state has the largest Cambodian-American population.

Recent figures show that less than two-thirds of Cambodian-Americans have higher than a 9th grade education, with 41 percent failing to leave high school with a diploma, compared with 16 percent nationally, according to KGA. Fewer than one in ten have a degree.

Proposition 57 also requires judges to decide whether juveniles should be tried in an adult court – a decision previously left to prosecutors.

Deportation is also common, with more than 30 percent of Cambodian youths in the United States reporting that they have a family member or know someone who was ejected from the country.

The proposition could conceivably benefit about 25,000 non-violent felons, who could seek early release, activists say.

Other propositions, such as proposition 63, which places more restrictions on gun sales, were also supported by Cambodian-Americans in Long Beach.

“We have a problem with guns and fear that they might fall into the hands of ISIS sympathizers that’s why they want a background check on that,” said Navan Cheth, a local activist. “I voted for it and it won, too.”

Congressman Alan Lowenthal, a vocal opponent of Prime Minister Hun Sen, was re-elected to District 47.