(CGTN): The Trump administration wants to deport thousands of previously protected Vietnamese immigrants.
Many fled to America as refugees following the war.
A 2008 agreement between Washington and Hanoi prevents the deportation of those who arrived before 1995.
The Trump administration is seeking to reinterpret the deal, to allow the removal of those convicted of crimes.
Discussing his case with his lawyer, Tung Nguyen, is facing an uncertain future
“They’re deporting the children of war refugees back to Vietnam,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen and his family came to the U.S. from Vietnam as refugees in the early 1990s.
But as a teenager, Nguyen started getting into trouble. And in 1994, when he was 17, he was convicted of murder and sent to prison.
Granted early release in 2011 after serving 18 years behind bars, he was immediately detained by immigration agents and stripped of his residency status.
“They put me before an immigration judge who says [sic] because of my crime he’s going to order my removal from the United States,” added Nguyen.
But a 2008 agreement between Washington and Hanoi protects Vietnamese from deportation if they arrived in the US before 1995 when the two countries restored diplomatic ties.
Nguyen said he thought his troubles were over until the Trump administration began efforts to reinterpret the agreement.
“My life was turning upside down. I didn’t know what to do. I was constantly in fear,” Nguyen said.
The U.S. government argues the agreement does not protect Vietnamese who have criminal records. Citing public safety, it said it’s prioritizing the removal of criminals with final deportation orders. Administration officials said about 5,000 Vietnamese could be impacted by the move.
Florida attorney Bao Than is part of a group challenging the government’s position in court.
“The Trump administration fully believes that the executive branch has certain power… to unilaterally reinterpret certain agreements made either by the Obama administration or any other prior administration,” said Than.
Last year, Nguyen received a rare pardon from California’s governor, who cited Nguyen’s community work in juvenile justice reform – and boosted his hopes of remaining in the U.S.
An immigration court is now considering his request to have his residency status restored.
But until then he said he remains concerned, and is plunging himself into advocacy on the issue in an effort to persuade the government to change course.