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Photo: VietRISE
Despite an impassioned fight from a number of Asian-American rights organizations, 33 Vietnamese refugees were recently deported. Photo: VietRISE

The recent deportation of 33 Vietnamese refugees shows how far the U.S. still must go to progress its immigration system

The deportations violate a 2008 agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam that immigrants from the latter would be shielded from deportation if they arrived…

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Vietnamese and Asian-American organizations across the country have denounced a recent deportation flight to Vietnam, claiming that deporting refugees is another instance of anti-Asian violence.

In the midst of the Biden administration’s 100-day deportation moratorium, organizations across the U.S. that work to end the deportation of Vietnamese immigrants and refugees were informed that ICE had scheduled a deportation flight to Vietnam from Texas. Thirty-three Vietnamese people were scheduled for the flight on Monday, March 15.

Among these 33 people are Hieu Huynh, a 49-year-old refugee who came to the states in 1980 with his family, fleeing the aftermath of the war in Vietnam, and Tien Pham, who spent years in a refugee camp until he resettled in San Jose, CA.

ICE deporting Vietnamese refugees despite Biden’s moratorium is troubling enough. But what makes matters worse, is that the deportations directly violate a bilateral agreement signed in 2008 between the United States and Vietnam.

This “memorandum of understanding,” which was put forth as an attempt to develop friendly relations between the two countries, laid out several provisions concerning deportations to Vietnam.

When signed, it was understood by both parties that all Vietnamese immigrants who arrived before 1995 would be shielded from removal, regardless of their documentation status or possible criminal record.

“Vietnamese citizens are not subject to return to Vietnam under this Agreement if they arrived in the United States before July 12, 1995. The U.S. Government and the Vietnamese Government maintain their respective legal positions relative to Vietnamese citizens who departed Vietnam for the United States prior to that date,” it reads.

During President Biden’s first address to the nation, he denounced violent attacks against Asian-Americans during the pandemic and called for them to end immediately.

Additionally, during his 2020 campaign trail, Biden published an op-ed in one of the most prominent Vietnamese newspapers, sharing how proud he was to “have voted to increase funding to help newly arrived Vietnamese resettle in the U.S.” after fleeing persecution. 

Most recently, in a Jan. 26, 2021 memo, he declared that the Federal Government “should combat racism, xenophobia and intolerance against [AAPIs] and should work to ensure that all members of AAPI communities — no matter their background, the language they speak, or their religious beliefs — are treated with dignity and equity.”

Activists argue that not only do these deportations violate the “memorandum of understanding,” but they are also yet another instance of anti-Asian violence.

Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition addressing anti-Asian hate amid the pandemic, have just released new data on anti-Asian hate crimes. They have received a total of 3,795 reports of hate incidents against Asian-Americans between March 19, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021.

A large group of Vietnamese and Asian American organizations have released a statement in response to the scheduled deportations of Tien Pham, Hieu Huynh and the 31 other Vietnamese refugees. Among the list are VietRISE, VietLead, Mekong-NYC, the Southeast Asian Defense Project and The Sống Collective

“Deporting Vietnamese immigrants and refugees to a country that they have not known since they were young is an anti-Asian violent attack, not only on them as individuals, but on their family and our Vietnamese and immigrant communities across the country,” they wrote in a statement.

Activists on social media platforms, Twitter in particular, have been raising awareness of the issue and campaigning for President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to #GroundThePlane.

Advocates appealed to Twitter users by sharing the stories and pictures of Huynh and Pham.

In May 2020, Huynh was transferred from local law enforcement to ICE custody for a conviction from over 30 years ago that he had already served time for. Huynh was torn from his family, including his eldery father, who he was taking care of. 

Mekong NYC, the Southeast Asian Defense Project and VietLead set up a toolkit to guide people on how to demand that the flight be cancelled.

The “week of action” started on March 8 and ended on March 15, the day of the scheduled deportations. The actions included a phone zap, targeted tweets to Biden, Harris, and Mayorkas, call and email scripts, and more.

On Oct. 27, 2020, in a phone-call obtained from Essex County Jail in New Jersey, Hyunh said: “Nobody wants to be in here. I’ll be really grateful if I can get out. I have to start fresh again because of this. I hope you guys can help me in the future to make sure I don’t have to go through this again.”

Unfortunately, these efforts were unsuccessful, and the government followed through with the deportations of the 33 Vietnames refugees who arrived in the U.S. well before the turn of the 21st century. In response, VietLead posted a somber message on Twitter, that radiated an energy of defeat, grief and quiet rage.

“We are sad, angry and disgusted with the inaction of @potus to #GroundthePlane last night. Thank you to the community who has supported Hieu and the 32 other community members over the past weeks. More to come shortly.” 

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