Vietnamese refugees in San Jose fear potential deportation

Amanda del Castillo Image
Tuesday, December 18, 2018
Vietnamese refugees in South Bay fear potential deportation
City leaders tell ABC7 News there is much to lose under the Trump Administration's re-interpretation of a decade-long agreement with Vietnam.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The Vietnamese community in San Jose is one of the country's largest, which means thousands of Vietnamese immigrants across the South Bay could soon be at risk of deportation.

City leaders tell ABC7 News there is much to lose under the Trump Administration's re-interpretation of a decade-long agreement with Vietnam.

In 2008, President George W. Bush signed a repatriation agreement, protecting Vietnamese immigrants who arrived before 1995, from deportation.

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Now, the Trump Administration is taking another look at the agreement, with potential plans to allow the removal of Vietnam refugees who arrived before 1995 and have criminal convictions.

San Jose Councilmember Tam Nguyen of District 7 explained he is a refugee. He came to the U.S. in 1975.

"I was one of the 'boat people' then," he said. "I found my home here. So, the idea of me or another friend or neighbor being taken away, going to a strange land, is a very, very depressing thought."

Nguyen said San Jose is home to more than 120,000 Vietnamese people-- many of whom are also refugees who fled after the Vietnam War.

"People risked their life, leaving the country for the freedom and democracy," Nguyen told ABC7 News. "We thought we had a home."

ABC7 media partners at the Mercury News report the Trump administration unilaterally changed its interpretation of the 2008 agreement to allow deportation of Vietnamese citizens who arrived before 1995 and have been convicted of crimes, earlier this year.

However, the administration quietly backed off amid a class action lawsuit by a coalition of immigrants rights groups and a backlash that included the resignation of the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam.

Some activists are worried that was only a temporary postponement.

"We're still trying to survive," Danny Doan with VietUnity South Bay said about the city's Vietnamese population. "Especially from trauma and war that a lot of our ancestors, our parents, our family members have gone through."

"They don't want to leave. They've built a life here," Doan argued. "To pick everything up all over again, that's quite unjust and inhumane."

Doan said about a dozen families have reached out to his group in fear. Those community members have led VietUnity to co-sponsor a petition to the Department of Homeland Security.

DHS reports more than 7,000 Vietnamese immigrants with past criminal convictions now have final orders of removal.

"They've lived here for over 20 years," Doan argued. "A lot of them have come here as young adults, young children. Navigating our system, navigating the world they were brought to."

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The threat of deportation is not only a concern for Councilman Nguyen's community, but for his family.

Nguyen told ABC7 News a relative is "one of the subjects of concern." He said his relative arrived in the U.S. at three-years-old, and was convicted as a young adult.

"For the past 30-something-years, he's a grown man now. A very productive member of society," Nguyen said. "Suddenly, he found himself at the risk of deportation."

Beyond the online petition, councilman Nguyen, Mayor Sam Liccardo and other city leaders have signed letters to President Trump against potential deportations.