Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Not All Migrants are Equal

Untangling Moves to Deport Vietnamese Immigrants


An American soldier watching South Vietnamese refugees crowding a United States Navy boat off the coast of Vietnam in 1975. Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Last week, news that the Trump administration was moving to deport certain Vietnamese immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for decades sparked fear and anger in a community that has deep roots in California — and one that includes strong supporters of the president’s hard line on immigration, as The Los Angeles Times recently reported.

Katie Waldman, spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement that “it’s a priority of this administration to remove criminal aliens to their home country,” and that 7,000 Vietnamese people have removal orders.

“These are noncitizens who during previous administrations were arrested, convicted and ultimately ordered removed by a federal immigration judge,” Ms. Waldman said.

But the deportation of Vietnamese immigrants — even ones with past deportation orders — has been rare. I asked Jenny Zhao, a staff attorney with Asian-Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus, which has advocated for immigrants, to talk about the possible changes. (The interview has been edited and condensed.)

Can you tell me a little about the situation for Vietnamese refugees?

Vietnamese refugees have not historically been subject to deportation from the U.S., because Vietnam did not take them back. That changed in 2008 with an agreement that allowed for the deportation of Vietnamese immigrants who came to the U.S. after 1995.

In 2017, the Trump administration started pressuring Vietnam to take back pre-1995 refugees. From late 2017 through mid-2018, Vietnam took back about a dozen people who came over before 1995.

Then, the administration conceded that Vietnam is not taking these people back. So that’s why the meeting with Vietnamese officials that was reported last week came as such a shock.

Say I’m a member of the Vietnamese community in California and I don’t have a criminal conviction. Why should I be concerned?

These are people that fled their country with nothing and were resettled in the U.S., often in poverty-stricken neighborhoods with gang violence. They were traumatized from the war. There are a lot of people who may have criminal convictions and haven’t talked about it.

What about for Cambodian refugees?

The Cambodian community has been devastated over the past year. In 2017, the Trump administration put formal sanctions on the Cambodian government for not taking Cambodian people back. It gives you a sense of what things might look like for Vietnam.

Have you been impacted by the Trump administration’s efforts to deport Vietnamese refugees? Email us at catoday@nytimes.com.

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