The Trump administration is moving to deport thousands of Vietnamese immigrants who arrived before 1995 and have criminal convictions, leaving many long-time residents fearful, officials say.
During the Bush administration in 2008, Vietnam and the U.S. made an agreement that prevents Vietnamese people who arrived in the U.S. before 1995 from being deported.
The current administration says that Vietnamese immigrants who came before 1995 and who have been charged with crimes are exempt from these protections. This would mean that thousands of Vietnamese immigrants, many of which are war refugees, could be deported.
“The U.S. position is that every country has an international legal obligation to accept its nationals that another country seeks to remove, expel or deport,” a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Brendan Raedy, told KTLA.
The Trump administration had been considering the new rules since 2017, even rounding up and preparing to deport thousands, the New York Times reported. The administration then backed away in August 2018.
Last week, James Thrower, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Hanoi, told the Atlantic that the American government was again reversing course.
This reinterpretation of the agreement would only apply to Vietnamese migrants who are undocumented or who have committed crimes, and not those who are American Citizens, Thrower said.
In Orange County, where the largest Vietnamese refugee community has settled in “Little Saigon,” fears are growing amongst the long-time residents.
One immigrant whose father had helped U.S. troops during the Vietnam War, said he would be ostracized if he was sent back to Vietnam.
“They will treat me as a traitor to the country because of what my dad did,” said Vietnamese immigrant Hai Nguyen. “They were considered traitors for leaving the country.”
Nguyen said he was arrested for armed robbery at 16 years old, and even though he was pardoned by the governor, he’s worried he would be one of many deported under the new rules.
“I will be looked down on and frowned upon,” Nguyen said. “I know nothing about Vietnam.”
Like many others, Nguyen came to the U.S. as a refugee when he was a baby.
Orange County is home to approximately 200,000 Vietnamese immigrants, 10 percent of the Vietnamese American population, according to Oxford Research.