11/08/2017 11:03 am ET Updated 2 hours ago

95 Vietnamese-Americans Detained, Could Face Deportation

The majority are refugees who are not eligible for deportation.

By Kimberly Yam


For many members of the Vietnamese community, their future in the U.S. hangs in the balance.

An estimated 95 Vietnamese-Americans are expected to be detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and could be facing deportation, Nancy Nguyen, the executive director of organization Vietlead, confirmed to HuffPost. The majority of those being rounded up are refugees.

“Deportations are a life sentence for our folks,” Chhaya Chhoum, executive director of Mekong NYC, who has spoken to families of those detained, told HuffPost. “In some sense, we put the responsibility on both governments who haven’t done the right thing to protect these people.”

ICE did not address specifics, however Brendan Raedy, ICE spokesman, said in a statement to HuffPost that countries are expected to comply with the repatriation process.

“International law obligates each country to accept the return of its nationals ordered removed from the United States,” He wrote. “The United States itself routinely cooperates with foreign governments in documenting and accepting its citizens when asked, as do the majority of countries in the world.”

The agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam currently puts restrictions on nationals who can be deported. Previously, Vietnam did not accept any deportees in part because of America’s role in attempting to overthrow the Vietnamese administration during the Vietnam War, the Pacific Standard points out.

But in 2008, the U.S. and Vietnam signed a memorandum of understanding which made it possible for Vietnamese nationals who arrived in the U.S. on or after July 12, 1995, and had orders of removal, to be deported to Vietnam. The MOU has not since changed nor has it been renegotiated.

Yet these recent roundups don’t include solely those who are eligible for deportation.They also involve those who had arrived to the States before 1995. With more than 8500 Vietnamese-Americans who have orders of removal, experts are concerned that these detentions will set a dangerous precedent and put thousands of individuals’ lives in jeopardy.

“At this point, these governments have a lot of power in deciding who to issue travel documents to but they are also being faced with mounting pressure from this Administration to accept as many people as possible,” Katrina Dizon Mariategue, immigration policy manager for the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center, told HuffPost.

As of Sunday, upwards of 40 Vietnamese-Americans are already being held at an ICE facility in Georgia, where the Vietnamese consulate is interviewing them, Nguyen told HuffPost. Most of these individuals have been detained in the past due to criminal records, but were released. And for many, they’ve lead completely different lives for years, routinely reporting to ICE for check-ins. So the timing of the roundups is concerning, Nguyen says.

Nguyen, whose organization has connected with many of those detained, told HuffPost she worries the incident could be related to President Trump’s trip to Asia, during which he plans to stop in Vietnam. After all, the Trump administration has discussed the subject of repatriations with the Vietnamese government a number of times in the past. It was discussed twice in May alone, when Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc along with a delegation, visited Washington. And it’s likely the topic will come up during the Asia tour.

“One of the things his administration has been pushing is for Vietnam to accept people beyond the agreement that has been written,” Nguyen told HuffPost. “My fear is that Vietnam is capitulating because Trump is showing up at their doorstep.”

The roundups come on the heels of the recent detentions of more than 100 Cambodian refugees last month and tensions within the refugee community continue to rise. In both cases, many of those detained had stayed out of trouble for decades and have not committed any new offenses, Mariategue explained.

Currently, several Vietnamese and Southeast Asian grassroots groups including Vietlead, Mekong-NYC, and SEARAC are organizing to respond to detentions and provide support for those most impacted as tensions continue to rise in the refugee community.

“It’s a very scary time,” Mariategue said. “And there is still a lot of uncertainly regarding what will happen next.”