Vietnamese men receive US visas to save cancer-stricken brother's life

By Hoang Phong   June 19, 2019 | 12:13 am PT
Vietnamese men receive US visas to save cancer-stricken brother's life
U.S. flags are handed out at a ceremony in California. Photo by Reuters/Robert Galbraith.
U.S. immigration officers have reversed their initial decision and granted visas for two Vietnamese men to donate bone marrow to their sick brother.

Lam Le and Hiep Nguyen have been given temporary visas to travel to the U.S. and donate their bone marrow in an effort to save their elder brother's life, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California said in a statement on her website on Tuesday, citing a State Department source.

Tu Le, the brother, was diagnosed last year with an aggressive form of blood cancer called myelodysplastic syndrome. The only hope of saving the 63-year-old man is a bone marrow transplant and two of his brothers proved 100 percent genetic matches.

However, their visa applications to visit the U.S. for the emergency was denied by the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City without providing any reason.

Lam and Hiep had applied for B-2 tourist visas at the end of May, citing a medical emergency. An immigration official from the U.S. Consulate in HCMC called the duo individually on June 3 to inform them they didn’t qualify for the visas, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, quoting a source from the patient’s family.

The family then reached out to Harris, who has officially announced a campaign to get the Democratic nomination for the 2020 U.S. presidential election. They also sought the intervention of Zoe Lofgren, U.S. Representative for California's 19th congressional district.  

The two politicians worked with the State Department to advocate on behalf of Tu and his family, by sending a joint congressional inquiry to the U.S. Consulate in HCMC, highlighting the medical urgency involved.

On Monday night, the State Department announced that their visa applications have been approved after the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Daniel Kritenbrink, agreed to organize a second interview for Lam and Hiep.

"I am pleased the Department of State has recognized the moral imperative to act, and that Tu Le will receive the urgent and life-saving care he needs," said Sen. Harris. "My thoughts will be with Tu Le, his daughter Diem Trinh Colisao, and the rest of their family throughout the road ahead."

A representative from the U.S. Consulate in HCMC refused to confirm the information to VnExpress International, saying they were not allowed to reveal private information. The newspaper also contacted the patient’s daughter but was yet to receive a response.

President Donald Trump has pursued a more hostile immigration policy than his predecessors, and many people from Vietnam have gone through long and frustrating struggle to apply for a visa to the U.S. Data from the State Department show that the approval of B-2 visas for visitors have declined to an estimated 32,400 in 2018, from 42,000 in 2017 and 43,500 in 2016.

This is not the first time a U.S. visa controversy has grabbed headlines in Vietnam. In 2017, a woman in HCMC only received a visa to visit her dying father on her fifth attempt, after media reports triggered a strong public response in her support. In September the same year, a Vietnamese woman who needed to undergo a stem cell transplant with her sister in the U.S. to save the latter from cancer was granted a visa after three failed attempts.

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