Children of American allies that fought alongside U.S. troops in Vietnam are facing deportation if they have a felony conviction.
Prior to the Trump administration, many Vietnamese children of war did not have to fear deportation due to a unique U.S.-Vietnam repatriation agreement that limits the removal of individuals who came to the U.S. prior to 1995, according to Asian American Press (AAP).
“Due to the specific provisions in the Vietnamese agreement, our community thought they would be protected from deportation,” said Nancy Nguyen, executive director of VietLead, a community-based organization in Philadelphia.
All that has now changed.
“President Donald Trump’s ‘get tough’ approach to immigration is now impacting—of all people— (those) who fought alongside the Green Berets in the Vietnam War,” Politico reported.
One of those affected is Hieu Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant and inmate at San Quentin who may face deportation next year.
“My dad was a colonel with the South Vietnamese Army fighting alongside the Americans,” said Nguyen, 37. “When the U.S. pulled out of the war in 1975, the Communist army threw my family into the concentration labor camp.
“It was at that camp where my father was executed by the Communist party in front of my family.
“At the camp, we faced constant starvation. Each week the camp allowed two scoops of rice and one scoop of salt for a family of five. So me and my brother would resort to digging for tree roots and manioc to eat.”
After nine years in the camp, “My grandmother sold her land and bought us out of the camp,” said Nguyen.
Life did not become much easier for Hieu and his family as they faced constant persecution from their neighbors.
“My teacher was a Communist soldier. He lost one of his legs during the Vietnam War, so he always abused me in school, beating me for no reason. He told me my father was a traitor and that he would kill me for wasting his time,” Nguyen said. “I kept it to myself because it was normal for people to treat me and my family this way.”
In 1994, under a humanitarian operation led by America, Hieu and his family received an opportunity to come to the U.S.
In total, more than a million refugees from Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam sought asylum in the United States between 1975 and 1995.
Those who resettled escaped violence, genocide and starvation—the by-products of the Vietnam War according to the Asian American Press. “Vietnamese refugees were primarily resettled in resource-poor areas in the U.S. As a result, they faced extreme poverty and racism in their adopted communities, leaving many re-traumatized and isolated,” the news agency reported.
Many Vietnamese children, who grew up in this environment, were swept up in the rise of the prison industrial complex in the 1980s and 1990s, according to the report.
“When we came to America we had no money; the only thing we had was some clothes that our neighbors gave us,” Nguyen said.
“We settled in a gang-infested neighborhood in San Jose,” Nguyen said.
“When I went to school, I got teased all the time and bullied because I didn’t speak English. So I began to clique up with other Vietnamese immigrants and joined a gang to find protection.”
After a year in America, at 15, the police arrested him for assault with a deadly weapon. By age 18 he committed his life crime of a gang-related murder at his high school.
“I know it’s wrong to commit crimes; it’s wrong to hurt other people, I deserved to be punished and to do time; however, today I understand my background to understand why I did what I did, and it helped me grow to understand to become a different person,” Hieu said.
“Regardless of what happens to me, I want to help the next generation make better choices than I had and to value what their parents have gone through to give us the opportunity to be in America.”
“I have to be honest; I’m afraid to go back to Vietnam. They might kill me because of my father, and I have no one there,” Nguyen added.
Sadly, what happens to Nguyen isn’t an isolated incident.
“More Vietnamese came into contact with the criminal justice system than any other Southeast Asian Community,” said Tung Nguyen, founder of Asian Pacific Islander Re-Entry Orange County and former San Quentin inmate and Kid CAT co-founder, who served 18 years from the age of 16.
“However, there is still such a stigma in our community that keeps us silent on these issues.”
“It was at that camp where my father was executed by the Communist party in front of my family”
The recent roundup of Vietnamese immigrants by immigration officials is due to “White House pressure on Hanoi to … clear the backlog of deportation orders for Vietnamese nationals convicted of felony crimes in the U.S.,” Politico reported.
Another person swept up in the fervor to remove immigrants was Chuh A, whose father fought alongside Green Berets in the Vietnam War.
“Chuh was being held at an ICE detention facility in Irwin County, Georgia. He had completed a state prison term for a first-time felony conviction in North Carolina (for) trafficking … ecstasy,” Politico reported.
After a video conference that lasted five minutes and two seconds to determine his status in the U.S., Immigration Court Judge William A. Cassidy of Atlanta ordered him deported and told Chuh “Buenos dias,” according to Politico.
Shortly afterward, ICE sent Chuh back to Vietnam, a country he hadn’t seen since the age of 13.
“I cry every night,” Chuh said. “They were grabbing and dragging me out on the ramp … I told them (ICE agents), ‘You know I cannot get on the plane. I fear for my life to go back to my country.”
Chuh left behind four children ranging from ages 5 to 12 and his common-law wife.
ICE estimates there are about 8,500 removal orders outstanding for Vietnamese nationals; this total does not make the distinction between those who came before or after 1995.