O.C. organizers protest Biden administration’s deportation of Vietnamese refugees

Organizers hold signs at a VietRISE-led rally in Orange County’s Little Saigon on Sunday.
(Tim Phan)
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Asian American organizations in Orange County and across the U.S. were notified last week that Immigration and Customs Enforcement had scheduled a deportation flight from Texas to Vietnam.

Hieu Huynh, a 49-year-old refugee who arrived in the U.S. in 1980 with his family, and Tien Pham, who spent years in a refugee camp and resettled in San Jose, were two of an estimated 33 ICE detainees on the flight scheduled to leave March 15.

VietRISE, an Orange County community organization, put together a caravan and rally in Westminster Park on Sunday that drew about 100 people. Over four days, people called, emailed and tweeted at the Biden administration hoping to stop the flight.

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Thomas Cartwright, a member of Witness at the Border, which began tracking deportation flight information last year, confirmed that the plane landed in Vietnam on Tuesday night.

Members of the Sunday rally, which included several Orange County community organizations, likened the deportation of Vietnamese refugees to recent attacks on Asian Americans.

“There’s been a surge of anti-Asian violence,” Tracy La, executive director of VietRISE, said in a telephone interview.

“We felt like there was a missing piece in that conversation. When our community members are deported, it doesn’t just affect them…. How is it not an act of violence to separate and rip people away from their families and communities to put them in a country thousands of miles away that they haven’t seen since they were children? We want people to see that the government is enacting anti-Asian violence, too.”

In a news release, organizers pointed out that President Biden denounced violent attacks against Asian Americans in his first address to the nation and in his 2020 campaign published a piece in an Orange County newspaper about how proud he was to have voted for more funding to help resettle Vietnamese refugees in the U.S.

Vietnamese refugees who were convicted of crimes in the U.S. faced deportation under the Trump administration despite a 2008 agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam that excludes Vietnamese nationals who arrived before July 12, 1995, from being subject to deportation.

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In December, ICE spokesperson Carissa Cutrell confirmed 86 Vietnamese nationals were in ICE custody.

“Under the Biden administration’s deportation policy, they’re supposed to be focusing resources on deporting people who pose a current danger to the public,” said Anoop Prasad, staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus.

“The majority of people on the flight have convictions that are very old, like Tien’s case, which is 20 years old. In the state of California, the governor, parole board, state prison system and prison psychologists had all found that Tien posed no danger to the public…. So there’s definitely this conflict there.”

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Prasad said the Asian Law Caucus advocated for both Pham and Huynh not to be deported but were denied at every level of ICE.

Prasad hasn’t yet heard from his clients.

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“I understand people are being placed in quarantine [after landing]. It’s just enormously heartbreaking for their families here in the U.S.,” Prasad said.

An online fundraiser to help Pham with his basic expenses and reentry support was created by the Asian Prisoner Support Committee.

“The Vietnamese community is not just a conservative community that will support anyone if you talk about the war,” VietRISE’s La said. “We want people to see us as a multifaceted community who wants change to come from the government. That’s why we [held a rally in] Orange County — because it’s so special to the Vietnamese diaspora here.”

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Castaneda writes for Times Community News.

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