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US reverses course, targets Vietnamese immigrants for deportation again

By Nguyen Quy   December 13, 2018 | 05:36 am PT
US reverses course, targets Vietnamese immigrants for deportation again
U.S. President Donald Trump at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 25, 2018. Photo by Reuters/Joshua Robert
After backing off last August, the Donald Trump administration has renewed its push to deport thousands of Vietnamese immigrants.

It is doing so despite a unique bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam that those arrived in the U.S. before 1995, the year the two former foes normalized relations, would not be subject to deportation.

Many of the targeted immigrants have lived in the U.S. for decades, having arrived in the country after the end of the Vietnam War.

The administration’s latest move has sparked strong criticism from legal analysts and immigrant rights advocates, the U.S.-based Atlantic magazine reported Wednesday.

To go around the 2008 treaty, the Trump administration is claiming that Vietnamese immigrants who arrived in the country before 1995 are subject to the standard immigration law, making all of them eligible for deportation.

Since early 2017, former citizens of Vietnam, Cambodia and several other countries have been targeted by Trump’s hardline immigration policy. The administration has sought to deport immigrants with criminal records who have green cards but did not become naturalized U.S. citizens, even if they’ve served their sentences.

Since March last year, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has launched a crackdown to detain and deport Vietnamese immigrants who have committed crimes even if they have served their time.

To many Vietnamese immigrants' relief, New York Times last month said that following a California district court ruling on October 18, thousands of Vietnamese immigrants who came to the U.S. as legal residents before 1995 have been spared from the risk of deportation by the federal immigration agents.

The shift followed an agreement reached with Vietnam last August under which "the removal of pre-1995 Vietnamese is not reasonably foreseeable," the Times report said.

But James Thrower, a spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Hanoi, told The Atlantic last week that the American government was again reversing course.

He said Washington now believes that the 2008 agreement cannot protect pre-1995 Vietnamese immigrants from deportation.

"While the procedures associated with this specific agreement do not apply to Vietnamese citizens who arrived in the United States before July 12, 1995, it does not explicitly preclude the removal of pre-1995 cases," he said, as cited in the report.

A spokesperson from the State Department has confirmed that the Department of Homeland Security is working with representatives of the Vietnamese embassy in Washington D.C., but refused to provide further details of the discussion, it said.

According to ICE figures, 71 Vietnamese people were deported to Vietnam last year, compared to 35 in 2016, and 32 in 2015. No information is given on when the deportees arrived in the United States.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveal nearly 1.3 million Vietnamese citizens have migrated to the United States since the end of the Vietnam War and obtained green cards. Of them, 10,000 Vietnamese nationals are subject to deportation under the new regime. Most of these have criminal convictions or lost their green cards. 

The push by the Trump administration had led to the resignation of Ted Osius, former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam who’s opposed to the policy.

Osius, who left his post in October last year, told Reuters last April that most people targeted for deportation had arrived in the United States prior to 1995, the year diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the United States were resumed after the Vietnam War.

The controversial interpretation puts thousands of Vietnamese who have lived in the U.S. for decades at risk.

"We have 5,000 convicted criminal aliens from Vietnam with final orders of removal," the Atlantic cited Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman from the Department of Homeland Security, as saying.

"These are non-citizens who during previous administrations were arrested, convicted and ultimately ordered removed by a federal immigration judge," she said.

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