Very little media attention is being paid to the plight of approximately 8,600 Vietnamese immigrants in the U.S., who are subject to final orders of deportation. Many of these immigrants are refugees who fled to the U.S. after the Vietnam War ended in 1975 and became green card holders. However, due to changes in the law during the Clinton administration and aggressive enforcement by President Trump, these immigrants may find themselves either deported to Vietnam or stuck in indefinite detention in the U.S.
7,821 have these Vietnamese immigrants have criminal convictions, many of these convictions are for misdemeanor petty theft or minor drug offenses. In 1996, President Clinton signed a law that made green card holders “automatically deportable if convicted of what is termed an ‘aggravated felony’ under immigration law.” The 1996 law also made these crimes apply retroactively. In the past, these convictions would not have resulted in deportation. But, under President Trump, this decades-old law is now being aggressively enforced.
Under U.S. immigration law, an “aggravated felony” requires the crime to be neither “aggravated” nor a “felony” in any jurisdiction. Rather, this is an all-encompassing term that Congress has defined to include many non-violent misdemeanors such as filing a false tax return or missing a court date. Unfortunately, not only is an immigrant with an aggravated felony automatically deportable, there is not even a hearing for a judge to hear potentially mitigating circumstances such as “having fled as a kid on a boat from a homeland devastated by the U.S. military and having grown up in poverty in a strange country.”
In 2008, the U.S. and Vietnam agreed not to deport Vietnamese immigrants who had arrived in the U.S. prior to July 12, 1995. However, President Trump’s strong desire to change that agreement has been met with fierce political opposition within the State Department. Last year, Ted Osius, the U.S. envoy to Vietnam resigned in protest after the Trump administration pressured him to ask Vietnam to accept these 8,000+ potential deportees. Moreover, many of these immigrants were loyal to South Vietnam (which lost the Vietnam War and no longer exists), and opposed North Vietnam, which became the present-day communist regime of Vietnam. Mr. Osius bitterly surmised, “I feared many would become human rights cases, and our government would be culpable.”
Most damaging, while the U.S. and Vietnam are still deciding whether to accept the Vietnamese deportees, increasing numbers of Vietnamese immigrants are being detained in U.S. government facilities. Some, like Hoang Trinh, have been detained indefinitely by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for at least 7 months, due to a previous drug charge in 2015. Trinh arrived in the U.S. with his family when “he was 4 years old, fleeing postwar communist Vietnam in 1980. Trinh became a legal U.S. resident, married and raised two American children in California’s Orange County.”
Now, stripped of his green card, Trinh faces imminent deportation to a country he barely remembers. If deported to Vietnam, Trinh’s only hope of returning to the United States is to obtain the unlikely consent of the U.S. attorney general, Jeff Sessions.