Titi Mary Tran (Nguoi-Viet English)
WESTMINSTER (NV) – Nearly 200 Asian-Americans gathered in Little Saigon on Saturday to protest the Trump administration’s efforts to deport protected Vietnamese immigrants, many of whom have lived in the United States since fleeing their home country during the Vietnam War.
Using microphones, crowd members yelled “Stop, stop, no more deportation, no more separation” while holding signs with such phrases as “Defend Vietnamese Refugees,” “Remember Our Roots,” “Protect the Vietnamese Community” and “Keep Families Together.”
The protesters started in front of the Asian Garden Mall and ended at the foot of the American and South Vietnam flags in front of the Người Việt Daily News.
A law enacted in 1980 said that non-U.S. citizens who have committed a crime, completed jail time and received a deportation order from immigration courts cannot live in the United States. In 2008, however, Vietnam and the United States signed an agreement that barred the deportation of Vietnamese who moved to the U.S. before July 12, 1995, the date the two nations reestablished diplomatic ties after the war.
The administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama honored the 2008 agreement, but the Trump administration is pushing for the deportation of Vietnamese Americans regardless of when they came to the United States.
Fusako Takeda, 74, a third-generation Japanese-American woman who was born in an internment camp at Heart Mountain in Wyoming and attended the protest on Saturday, said, “Japanese people support Vietnamese people. We know what it’s like to be ostracized. When my parents came, they were not allowed to become American,” she said, trembling.
“It’s not fair or humane,” said Tung Nguyen, who as a 16-year-old refugee in 1994 received a life sentence at San Quentin State Prison for murder and robbery but was granted a pardon last month by California Gov. Jerry Brown.
Nguyen was convicted after a hotel fight that resulted in the death of another man. While serving his sentence, Nguyen risked his life to save 50 people in a riot at San Quentin. Brown granted him an early release in a 2011 executive order because of the act, saying Nguyen didn’t start the fight or participate in a stabbing that led to his conviction.
“I come here today to call the U.S. government and the Vietnamese government to keep the 2008 agreement and not to deport Vietnamese who came here before 1995 and who had criminal records,” said Nguyen, an activist from Santa Ana who is the founder of Asians & Pacific Islander Re-Entry of Orange County.
According to the Los Angeles Times, more than 8,000 Vietnamese residents in the United States who escaped their homeland but later committed crimes — even minor ones for which they have served time — will face deportation if immigration officials succeed in renegotiating the 2008 agreement that sheltered their residency status.
“(These are Vietnamese Americans) who are working; their crimes were decades ago,” Nguyen said. “They have lived and worked as law-abiding citizens for decades. And if these people are targeted for deportation, they will suffer. They have wives and children here, and they are members of the community. To make them a target (for deportation) is not fair and not humane.”
Unlike with Canada and Mexico, the United States does not share a border with Vietnam, so the deportation of Vietnamese people would present greater challenges because they couldn’t just be returned to the other side of the U.S. border. If the Vietnamese government decided not to accept these people, they would be stateless.
Suzie Xuyen Dong-Matsuda, a Vietnamese community psychologist who attended the protest, said: “This is a violation of human rights and human basic needs. Through my work, I have stories of young people who died within two months of being deported. Stop the deportation and stop the violation.”
Among the protesters were students, teachers, doctors, school superintendents and city council members who had compelling personal immigration stories.
Kim Bernice Nguyen, a city council member from Garden Grove who has a Mexican mother and a Vietnamese father, said: “All of these issues are affecting all of us. Whether you’re a Latino, a Muslim or Vietnamese, we are all targeted.”
Lucca Nguyen-Pere, whose parents drove him to Little Saigon from Los Angeles, said: “I come here to stop the immigrants from being deported.”
Said his mother: “We talked about it this morning; we would rather be at home and hanging out with family. But we have the privilege to be together, and not all families have that right and privilege.”
Nguoi-Viet reporter Do Dzung, The Atlantic and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.