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Senators Call for Reexamination of SE Asian Refugee Detention, Deportation

January 4, 2019, 11:36 AM HST (Updated January 4, 2019, 11:36 AM)
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Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai‘i) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) led 13 senators in urging Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen to reexamine her department’s “arbitrary detention and deportation” of many long-term U.S. residents from Southeast Asia, including those who fled war and genocide.

The senators noted with particular concern that the Trump Administration’s targeting of Vietnamese refugees who arrived in the country prior to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam in 1995 violates a 2008 repatriation agreement between the two countries. The agreement provided legal protection for hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees who fled to the United States following the Vietnam War.

“In Fiscal Year 2018, there was an increase in deportations of Southeast Asian immigrants with more than 350 Laotian, Cambodian, and Vietnamese immigrants who were ordered to be deported. Those processed for deportation by the Trump administration’s recent, aggressive deportation efforts include legal permanent residents who have lived in the United States for decades after fleeing violence and genocide in their home countries,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to reexamine policies on the arbitrary detention and deportation of Southeast Asian immigrants who prove no threat to public safety, are interwoven into our communities, and support United States citizen families.”

Several leading justice and advocacy groups have spoken out against the Trump Administration’s actions, including the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, Vietnamese Anti-Deportation Network, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), AAJC Atlanta, and AAJC Chicago. Hawaii is home to more than 140,000 foreign born residents from Southeast Asia.

Senators signing the letter also include Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Jack Reed (D- R.I.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Secretary Nielsen:

We write to express our deep concern about recent reports that the Trump Administration is pursuing the deportation of many long-term U.S. residents who emigrated from Southeast Asian countries, including lawful permanent residents from Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. We are particularly troubled by the administration’s reported efforts to deport Vietnamese immigrants who arrived in the country before the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam on July 12, 1995, in clear violation of the 2008 repatriation agreement between the countries.

In Fiscal Year 2018, there was an increase in deportations of Southeast Asian immigrants with more than 350 Laotian, Cambodian, and Vietnamese immigrants who were ordered to be deported. Those processed for deportation by the Trump administration’s recent, aggressive deportation efforts include legal permanent residents who have lived in the United States for decades after fleeing violence and genocide in their home countries. Upon arriving in the United States, many found themselves in struggling neighborhoods. While most made the best of their new circumstances, a small subset made mistakes and entered the criminal justice system. Some of these mistakes date back to when they were teenagers and young adults. They have served their time and have been out of the criminal justice system for decades. The detention and deportation of these lawful permanent residents effectively re-punishes them and ignores ways they may have transformed their lives to become productive community members, business owners, and loving parents supporting their families.

As noted, the administration’s efforts to deport pre-July 1995 Vietnamese immigrants is particularly troubling. The United States and Vietnam entered into a repatriation agreement in 2008. The agreement takes into account the long and complex history between the two countries and provides a level of protection for the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese immigrants who fled their home country to seek refuge in the United States in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Many of those who fled were South Vietnamese citizens who had fought alongside or otherwise supported the United States during this conflict. Accordingly, the agreement makes clear that Vietnamese immigrants “are not subject to return to Vietnam under this Agreement if they arrived in the United States before July 12, 1995, the date of which diplomatic relations were re-established between the U.S. Government and the Vietnamese Government.”

Recent reports suggest that the Trump administration unilaterally interpreted the 2008 agreement in the spring of 2017 to enable it to deport certain Vietnamese refugees who arrived in the United States before July 1995—despite the agreement’s clear terms. We understand that the Department of Homeland Security is again relying on this faulty interpretation to detain Vietnamese immigrants who arrived prior to July 1995 and process them for removal.

It is troubling to see Southeast Asian families being targeted in this way. We urge you to reexamine policies on the arbitrary detention and deportation of Southeast Asian immigrants who prove no threat to public safety, are interwoven into our communities, and support United States citizen families. Your agency’s finite resources should not be wasted to tear families apart and deport individuals who have transformed their lives after serving their sentences. We further urge you to restore the protections provided by the 2008 U.S.-Vietnam repatriation agreement and stop the deportation of Vietnamese refugees who arrived in the country prior to July 12, 1995.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

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