Ha Noi (Reuters): THE US is seeking to send thousands of immigrants from Vietnam back to the communist-ruled country despite a bilateral agreement that should protect most from deportation, according to Washington’s former ambassador to Hanoi.
Former ambassador Ted Osius said that many of the targeted immigrants were supporters of the now defunct US-backed state of South Vietnam, and Hanoi would see them as destabilising elements.
“These people don’t really have a country to come back to,” he said. Many of those targeted would have come to the US as refugees after the end of the Vietnam War.
Osius said the push by the Trump administration started in April last year and contributed to his resignation in October.
A US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson, Brendan Raedy, said as of December last year, there were 8600 Vietnamese nationals in the US subject to deportation and “7 821 have criminal convictions”.
The Vietnamese immigrants, most of whom are legal US residents but not citizens, are in a unique position, however.
A 2008 bilateral agreement between Vietnam and the US states that “Vietnamese citizens are not subject to return to Vietnam” if they “arrived in the US before July 12, 1995”.
Osius said the Trump administration had threatened to withhold privileges for Vietnamese officials to the US and link the issue to trade between the two countries.
He said some immigrants had been involved in serious crimes. But, he added, “there was an agreement in 2008 that the cases between 1975 and 1995 would be left alone”.
The White House declined to comment on the issue of deportation of the Vietnamese.
Katina Adams, a spokesperson for the State Department’s East Asia bureau, said the US and Vietnamese governments “continue to discuss their respective positions relative to Vietnamese citizens who departed Vietnam for the US”.
A senior Vietnamese official confirmed that Hanoi was “in discussions” with the US over the issue.
Hanoi has objected to Washington’s insistence on the deportations, Osius said in the interview in Ho Chi Minh City, where he is now vice-president of Fulbright University Vietnam.
Osius said he warned the administration that its stance could threaten hard-won and deepening ties with Hanoi.
He added that he was worried that Washington was determined to go through with the deportations, “even if it meant torpedoing the security relationship, the trade relationship”.
In January, Vietnam listed a US-based group still loyal to South Vietnam as a terrorist organisation, and jailed four people for seven to 12 years for flying the South Vietnamese flag.
A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court in February challenged the push to deport Vietnamese nationals, alleging that ICE last year “abruptly departed from past enforcement practices pertaining to pre-1995 Vietnamese immigrants”.
Last September, Osius wrote to then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, asking him to reconsider the policy.
Tillerson could not be reached for comment. –