He risked his life fighting the Californian wildfires, now he faces deportation

The Guardian US reporter Sam Levin talks to Rachel Humphreys about Bounchan Keola, who sustained a life-threatening injury on the frontline of a huge fire. Keola had just two weeks of his prison term remaining when he was crushed by a tree while battling the devastating Zogg blaze in northern California on 2 October and was airlifted to a hospital. Days later, California prison officials notified federal immigration agents that his release would be coming up and the state, records show, made arrangements to transfer him to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice). He is now threatened with deportation to Laos, a country his family fled three decades ago.

Sam tells Rachel about the crime that put Keola in prison for 22 years and discusses California’s controversial policy of transferring certain foreign-born prisoners to Ice after they have completed their prison sentences – a practice the governor, Gavin Newsom, has supported. Lawmakers across the country, including the congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, called on Newsom to end the transfers in September, in response to the story of Kao Saelee, another prison firefighter and Laotian refugee sent to Ice. Rachel hears from Keola, who talks about the fire that nearly took his life, and his his sister Thongsouk Keola, who says Boun deserves a second chance.


Bounchan Keola



Photograph: Courtesy of the family of Bounchan Keola

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