Protections that have enabled Vietnam War refugees to live in the United States for decades are now under threat following the Trump administration’s reinterpretation of a 2008 agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam.
The deal, which was made after the Vietnam War as the two countries re-established diplomatic ties, states that undocumented Vietnamese immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before July 12, 1995, will not be deported.
The war officially ended after Northern Vietnamese forces defeated the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese government, bringing the country’s subsequent reunification.
The Atlantic first reported Wednesday that the administration has unilaterally reinterpreted the agreement signed under the George W. Bush administration in 2008.
According to the State Department, the Trump administration now believes that immigrants who arrived before 1995 are already eligible for deportation should the government have a reason to begin such deportation procedures, reports The Hill.
“While the procedures associated with this specific agreement do not apply to Vietnamese citizens who arrived in the United States before July 12, 1995, it does not explicitly preclude the removal of pre-1995 cases,” a State Department representative was quoted as saying.
It was not made clear, however, whether the Vietnamese government was consulted to make said changes to the 2008 agreement. DHS officials met with Vietnamese Embassy officials in Washington recently, but details about the discussions were not made public.
“7,000 convicted criminal aliens from Vietnam with final orders of removal,” Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokeswoman Katie Waldman said.
“These are non-citizens who during previous administrations were arrested, convicted, and ultimately ordered removed by a federal immigration judge. It’s a priority of this administration to remove criminal aliens to their home country.”
At the risk of deportation are thousands of Vietnamese immigrants, many of whom are relatives or themselves were sympathetic or helpful to the United States’ objectives during the Vietnam War. Such families fled Vietnam following the fall of Saigon and the withdrawal of U.S. military from South Vietnam in 1975.
There have been three significant waves of Vietnamese immigration to the U.S. since the collapse of the South Vietnamese government in 1975.
According to the Migration Policy Institute:
“This first wave consisted mainly of military personnel and urban, educated professionals whose association with the U.S. military or the South Vietnamese government made them targets of the communist forces.
In the late 1970s, the second wave of Vietnamese refugees entered the United States in what became known as the “boat people” refugee crisis. This group came from mainly rural areas and was often less educated than earlier arrivals; many were ethnic Chinese immigrants fleeing persecution in Vietnam.
The third wave entered the United States throughout the 1980s and 1990s; unlike earlier arrivals, this group contained fewer refugees and included thousands of Vietnamese Amerasians (children of U.S. servicemen and Vietnamese mothers) as well as political prisoners.”
President Trump first pursued a similar policy last year but walked the initiative back after widespread backlash. The move also prompted the resignation of Ted Osius from his post as the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam.
“These people don’t really have a country to come back to,” Osius said in April.