South Bay Officials Condemn White House Plan to Deport Vietnamese Immigrants

Hai Tran fled Vietnam by sea, going from fishing boat to merchant ship to a refugee outpost in Hong Kong before a sibling sponsored his immigration to the U.S. in 1980. His wife, Kim Ho, joined him in California after her own treacherous journey, giving birth to their first American-born child, Huy Tran, two years after their arrival.

Over the ensuing decades, the family earned a keep through landscaping, mending clothes and, eventually, its own nail salon. The war-scarred refugees laid the foundation for the younger Tran to attend San Jose State and Santa Clara University’s School of Law to pursue a career as an employment rights attorney in Silicon Valley.

Huy Tran said the U.S. welcomed his family and helped them thrive. They initially relied on public assistance to get a leg up, becoming one of a myriad immigrant successes woven into the tapestry of Bay Area life. But President Donald Trump’s push to deport potentially thousands of Vietnamese nationals rattled his faith in American institutions.

“It’s terrible,” he said. And, for many people, terrifying.

The fear is widespread in San Jose—home to Little Saigon and the largest Vietnamese population of any American city—and throughout the greater South Bay, which boasts one of the highest concentrations of foreign-born residents in the U.S. The White House unilaterally decided to reverse a decade-old pact that bars deportation of Vietnamese refugees who arrived stateside before 1995.

Federal officials say the new rule aims only to remove convicted criminals.

“We have 7,000 convicted criminal aliens from Vietnam with final orders of removal—these are non-citizens who during previous administrations were arrested, convicted and ultimately ordered removed by a federal immigration judge,” U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldman said in a statement. “It’s a priority of this administration to remove criminal aliens to their home country.”

Problem is: many of the targeted refugees sided with the U.S. in the Vietnam War, which makes them vulnerable to persecution by Hanoi authorities if forced to return. The reported targeting of Vietnamese refugees is part of a larger pattern by the Trump administration to go after immigrants with deep roots in the U.S. without regard for the circumstances that brought them here in the first place.

This time around, Trump’s crackdown affects one of the few minority groups that tend to favor Republican candidates. Thousands of Vietnamese war refugees who dropped anchor in the South Bay flocked to the GOP out of aversion for the authoritarian communism that overthrew their home country. Though subsequent generations lean more to the left of their forebears, the demographic remains largely conservative in the South Bay and other Vietnamese enclaves such as Orange County.

California Democrats, for their part, fiercely condemned the White House for trying to reinterpret the 2008 repatriation agreement to expand the roster of deportable immigrants. A dozen House members signed a letter saying the Vietnamese people vulnerable to removal “are Americans who are not familiar with the country they fled from.” Sending them back, they said, would devastate families and entire communities.

Officials in Santa Clara County, which prides itself on being a so-called sanctuary jurisdiction, issued similar denunciations.

In a statement emailed to reporters Monday, the county’s Office of Immigrant Relations vowed to “closely monitor” the situation. It also released a list of funded relief resources for Vietnamese, Hmong, Laotian, Cambodian and other members of the local Southeast Asian community worried worried about detention or deportation.

Though he’s heard from plenty of fellow Vietnamese-Americans who agree with the Trump administration’s rationale for stepping up deportations, Tran said such policies needlessly and recklessly perpetuate generational trauma. It’s true that the people eligible for removal have broken laws, he said. But he believes it’s inhumane to return them to a place that’s foreign to them, not to mention potentially dangerous.

If the White House gets its way, more people like Duc Nguyen would be at risk for deportation. (Photo: VietUnity South Bay)

Activists raised similar concerns about Duc Nguyen, a 35-year-old San Jose father of two who feared deportation earlier this month when the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) called him in for additional questioning. Though Nguyen arrived in the U.S. after 1995, his case is instructive because it reflects the plight of so many other people who preceded him in the time period covered by the repatriation agreement.

Nguyen came to California through a humanitarian resettlement program at age 12, according to a community advocacy group called VietUnity South Bay, which shared his story online. Like many youth in communities of new immigrants, he was exposed to gangs and, with no legal help at the time, got caught up in the juvenile justice system.

Over the ensuing decades, however, Nguyen led a productive life. The near-lifelong East Side resident regularly attends Saint Maria Goretti Parish and Chua Duc Vien Buddhist Community Pagoda. He has a 2-year daughter and supports a medically fragile 6-year-old stepson and his aging mother, who requires round-the-clock care.

Thankfully for Nguyen, the #KeepDucHome social media campaign, sidewalk demonstrations, help from the Asian Law Alliance and other forms of public support for his continued residency paid off. Despite the scare from ICE, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services approved his petition to remain stateside.

Immigrant advocates caution that if the White House gets its way with the 2008 repatriation agreement, more people with stories like Nguyen will be in the crosshairs.

“Regardless of pre-95 or post-95 ...  many in our coalition are committed to continue fighting to keep families together,” VietUnity organizer Dieu Bruce Huynh said. “Americans believe in no double jeopardy, not being punished twice for one crime.”

The goal of VietUnity, he added, is to protect immigrants and refugees from getting sucked into the school to prison to deportation pipeline. Tran agreed.

“Imagine someone makes a stupid decision, maybe as a teenager, and tries to move on,” he said, “but instead of being able to do that, somebody’s grabbing them by the collar to a country across the ocean that they don’t know anymore. Maybe it’s a country they never knew. You’re punishing them a second time for crimes they already paid for. And the same families that got torn apart from the war are doomed to repeat the same cycle.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

27 Comments

  1. There goes the GOP, hard at work alienating practically anyone that might even slightly be on their (wrong) side. Don’t forget the poem _First They Came…_
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came_

    First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

  2. > This time around, Trump’s crackdown affects one of the few minority groups that tend to favor Republican candidates.

    This article really IS racist. It is amazing how tone deaf progressives regarding their own racism.

    How is this article racist?

    “Federal officials say the new rule aims only to remove convicted criminals.”

    “We have 7,000 convicted criminal aliens from Vietnam with final orders of removal—these are non-citizens who during previous administrations were arrested, convicted and ultimately ordered removed by a federal immigration judge,”

    Well, . . . doesn’t the article say that “the largest Vietnamese population of any American city” is supporting the illegal residency in the United States of “convicted criminals”?

    Do I need to spell it out?

    Vietnamese population = pro-convicted criminal

    What is the next slur on Vietnamese that SJI is going to promote?

    “Vietnamese skin privilege”?

    “Vietnamese supremacism”?

    Tone deaf.

  3. This is a typical Wadsworth/SJI story. If this were a piece of actual journalism, it would have included an explanation of the offense or offenses for which the government seeks to deport Duc Nguyen. I doubt that the order of removal was issued for something minor. I also doubt he would face persecution for his role in the Vietnam War, since he was a baby when it ended.

    • > If this were a piece of actual journalism, it would
      > have included an explanation of the offense or offenses

      Maybe that wasn’t the point of the article. Maybe the point of the article is that the republicans are ignoring, or rather, reinterpreting, a 2008 repatriation agreement between the two countries. Rather than focusing on harsh, red-meat strategies like “Kick ’em out!”, how about working to make them US citizens, or even just working to get the judges’ orders reversed such that removal orders aren’t hanging over their head for the rest of their lives?

      This guy, Duc Nguyen, committed those offenses when he was a teenager. He’s 35 now, and from what’s in the article, he’s a very productive member of our society. Think about the side effects of removing him would be. His mother who needs round the clock care will, what, get to go on public assistance, or go homeless, living in a tent near your house?

      BTW, that repatriation agreement was executed during George Bush Jr’s administration.

  4. What the point of mention all the Congressional member state official saying the they are against trump.deporting Asian . When they are powerless to do anything beside writing letter with there name on it. What that gonna do not a dam thing. It sad that one man have more power then a bunch of congressional member put together.

  5. ““We have 7,000 convicted criminal aliens from Vietnam with final orders of removal—these are non-citizens who during previous administrations were arrested, convicted and ultimately ordered removed by a federal immigration judge,” U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldman said in a statement. “It’s a priority of this administration to remove criminal aliens to their home country.””

    I condemn the South Bay Officials for siding with non US citizens criminals.

    • What about the US citizen family of “convicted criminals?” Myself and whole family are Italian. My husband was convicted for drugs when he was 21 after coming here as a small child. He has been clean almost 10 years now. I dont speak Vietnamese and have never even left California. What do you expect? The US citizen family and children to move to Vietnam? I am Catholic and do not believe in remarriage. What would me and his daughter do here without him? Seems a bit harsh of a treatment for drug addiction. We are both recovering addicts. We have suffered enough from addiction. I can not go through losing another family member to addiction. Especially after they have been clean all this time and have turned their life around.

      • Based on the statement from U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldman, the federal immigration judge was the one who ordered to remove those criminal aliens to their home country. The current administration is just trying to enforce the laws. If they, the South Bay officials wants to condemn anybody, they should condemn the judge who did the order.
        In my opinion, the SB officials and others don’t have the gut to do that because that means they are against the US laws.
        Sorry to hear your case but the law is the law.

  6. Why I just read an article a few weeks ago about what a great place Ho chi min City is for retiring expatiates returning to their home land. Low Cost hi standard of living for anyone with a couple hundred bucks.

    I’m beginning to think I just can’t trust anything I read in the news these days.
    Come on we really don’t need anymore criminals on our streets!

  7. > South Bay Officials Condemn White House Plan to Deport Vietnamese Immigrants

    As near as I can figure, no “South Bay Officials” are cited or quoted in this article.

    Shall I put this article in the fake news pile?

  8. It easy for people to say they are criminals in the back. Because you as the people are not in there shoes. I’m sure almost everyone who comment did something that is against the law one time or another in there life.does that make u a criminal. Separating families is something that I would not wish on my worst enemy. That’s the coolest thing you can do to anybody separating mothers and fathers from the kids. I would never thought one man could bring out the worst in people some people talk about God this god that but yet they want to separate parents from ther kids . Well for all those people who thanks it’s right to separate the parents from the kids will have to explain that to their maker above.

    • > POWERLESS

      And, by the way, MR. POWERLESS: the most powerless people in California are Republicans.

      You don’t sound like a Republican.

      Republicans are a small numerical minority in California but probably pay the majority of taxes.

      Yet, when Republicans vote in elections, their votes are basically nullified. See “The Miracle of Orange County”.

  9. > Separating families is something that I would not wish on my worst enemy.

    The families can remain UNSEPARATED in their countries of origin: Vietnam, Honduras, Guatamala, wherever.

    Family separation is NOT the fault of the U.S. government or the American taxpayer.

    Blame the radical activists who organized and funded the caravans, the human traffickers, and their coyotes.

    Blame Pueblo Sin Fronteras, their activists, and their donors.

    https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2018/11/15/filmmaker_ami_horowitz_investigates_migrant_caravan_organized_well-funded.html

    Blame “open borders” politicians like Gavin Newsom.

    Blame the architects of the American welfare state:

    https://cis.org/Report/Welfare-Use-Immigrant-and-Native-Households

    “In 2012, 51 percent of households headed by an immigrant (legal or illegal) reported that they used at least one welfare program during the year, compared to 30 percent of native households. Welfare in this study includes Medicaid and cash, food, and housing programs.”

    • I was born here and my whole family is white. 95% of them are Republican and conservative. My grandpa who we live with is a WW2 veteran and watches Fox News and does not believe my husband should be deported for drugs. Ask him what he thinks of me and my husband and daughter(his only great-granddaughter being all sent to be “UNSEPARATED” in Vietnam. LOL.

      • > and does not believe my husband should be deported for drugs

        It sounds to me like your husband was irresponsible, thoughtless, and inconsiderate of his family.

        It sounds like he should have applied for citizenship when he got married.

        In most countries in the world, he would have been punished severely for doing drugs. What is the punishment for doing drugs in Vietnam?

        It sounds like your husband would not be welcome in a lot of places: Singapore, Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam.

        Why are you asking America to accept someone who would not be accepted in most other countries in the world? Why are you asking America to accept the consequences of your husband’s bad choices and your family’s failure to deal with his bad choices?

        How is America a better place with your husband? What is your husband, and you, and your family going to do to make America a better place.

        I am disappointed that you and your family are in this difficult situation. But, I am satisfied that I personally have done everything that I can reasonably do for you. After all, I have a family that has problems that need solutions. And other Americans also have their families that have problems that need THEIR resources and attention.

        The easy answer is to just put one more person in the lifeboat. But the lifeboat is already sinking.

        We only have hard answers left. Answers that cause pain. Who should bear that pain? Not my family. Not other people’s families.

        I am extremely ANGRY at the politicians, social institutions, and educational and entertainment role models and leaders who glorified and promoted drug use and minimized the damage it does to human beings.

        Ask Barbara Streisand, or Meryl Streep or Robert De Niro or Alyssa Milano or Jimmy Kimmel for a big cash grant to help fix your family crisis instead of giving their money to Democrat politicians.

  10. I have a family member who came here when he was 8, and was deported for drugs. Only drugs. Nothing violent. He is now about to be licensed as a certified drug counselor. Due to a bill passed in congress that made drug convictions deportable offenses, anyone convicted for drugs is automatically deportable and excluded from entering the United States. I have known several people in my life with drug problems. They need treatment and NA or AA and rehab, not be deported to a country they dont even remember, especially 10 years after they have been clean off drugs, and have a family now. Before you lump all convicted criminals into one group of violent dangerous people, remember, in drug crimes, the one getting hurt the most is the addicts, followed by the family. Drug addiction is not a moral problem. It is a disease. A disease that ultimately can lead to death. I pray to God none of your family members ever have to face the consequences of addiction. If they do, or are, I pray they find recovery and healing. Not being punish years after getting clean, and punishing the entire family more than they have already suffered.

    • > Not being punish years after getting clean, and punishing the entire family more than they have already suffered.

      Living in your country of origin is NOT a punishment.

      Living in the United States is a privilege of U.S. citizens, and NOT a right if non-citizens.

      Civilization is based on borders. Places that DON’T have borders are no-man’s land and are not civilized.

      Can you name a civilized territory on earth that doesn’t have borders?

  11. Hey bubble, you are wrong in saying that living in the US is a privilege of US citizens. It’s not a privilege for citizens, it’s a right. Please try to keep it straight inside of that outside bubble of yours.

    BTW, let’s also try to keep in mind that we are all inhabitants of this one earth we have. The only real border that exists, one that isn’t based on political constructs, is the atmosphere. You try to pass that border, you will die real fast. All the other borders you’re talking about are made up ones, just lines on a map.

    From a DNA perspective, we’re all the same, and we’re all in this together. Try to keep that in mind before getting all mean and angry.

    • > Hey bubble, you are wrong in saying that living in the US is a privilege of US citizens. It’s not a privilege for citizens, it’s a right.

      Legally, it’s a right.

      Metaphorically, it’s a privilege.

      Living in Venezuela is a right for Venezuelans. But a lot of them DON’T regard it as a privilege.

      > The only real border that exists, one that isn’t based on political constructs, is the atmosphere.

      A “border” IS a political construct. The atmosphere is a “boundary” or a “limit”.

      > From a DNA perspective, we’re all the same, and we’re all in this together.

      One of my favorite rabbit holes. More in a bit . . .

      > Try to keep that in mind before getting all mean and angry.

      What I will say about DNA will probably be intriguing to knowledgeable people trained in the sciences. Snowflakes might find it “triggering” and “offensive”.

  12. This article bears traces of a wee bit of bias. First, the headline:

    “South Bay Officials Condemn White House Plan to Deport Vietnamese Immigrants”

    Not “Vietnamese immigrants,” the overwhelming majority of whom have been a tremendous asset to this country. Vietnamese felons. Ex-cons. No different from ex-cons who were born in any other country, and are likewise subject to deportation. Why do these particular felons deserve special treatment? Because they fled Vietnam years ago? Just this year a concentration camp guard, well into his 90s, was plucked from his comfortable retired life in New York, and sent to Germany. He had never lived in Germany. He had lived here sixty years, working hard, being a contributing member of society and his community. Nobody thought those things mattered a bit.

    Next we read about a couple of Vietnamese immigrants who are not felons. Who have led blameless, productive lives in their adopted country. What was the point?

    Finally we read about somebody not part of the 7000 Vietnamese felons now eligible for deportation. Why? Because he is a sympathetic character. A devoted family man whose only offenses happened when he was a youth. We forgive young people their mistakes. We have an entire juvenile justice and detention system for this purpose. Nothing to do with adults committing felonies. But his story leaves us with the feeling that those 7000 felons are also hardworking, devoted family men, who erred long ago and are now contributing members of society.

    Why not interview an actual Vietnamese felon? A murderer, perhaps. Try to make him seem sympathetic. Make the case why he should not be deported.

  13. At some point in time, laws have to matter. What’s the point in passing laws if they are not going to be enforced?

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