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O.C. organizers urge Biden administration to stop deportation of Vietnamese refugees

Organizers hold signs at a VietRISE-led rally in Little Saigon on March 14.
(Courtesy of Tim Phan)

Last Thursday, Asian American organizations in Orange County and across the U.S. were notified that Immigration and Customs Enforcement scheduled a deportation flight to Vietnam from Texas.

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 out of an estimated 33 ICE detainees on the flight scheduled to leave on March 15.

VietRISE, an O.C.-based community organization, put together a caravan and rally in Westminster Park on March 14 that drew about 100 people. Over four days, people called, emailed and tweeted at the Biden administration hoping to stop the flight.

Local organizations such as the Orange Mobile Home Coalition, Palestinian Youth Movement, Korean Resource Center, Los Alamitos Community United church, El Centro Cultural de Mexico, Chinatown Community for Equitable Development, Vietnamese Solidarity Action Network and the California Healthy Nail Salon collaborative joined the rally.

“Deporting Vietnamese refugees is anti-Asian violence,” the group chanted on Sunday afternoon.

Local O.C. community organizations showed up for a socially distanced rally and caravan on March 14
Local O.C. community organizations showed up for a socially distanced rally and caravan on March 14 hoping to stop the deportation of about 33 Vietnamese refugees who were held in ICE detention.
(Courtesy of Tim Phan)

“There’s been a surge of anti-Asian violence,” said Tracy La, VietRISE executive director, in a phone 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 Joe Biden denounced violent attacks against Asian Americans in his first address to the nation, and in his 2020 campaign trail published a piece in a local O.C. newspaper about how proud he was to have voted for more funding to help resettle Vietnamese refugees in the U.S.

Vietnamese residents in the U.S. who escaped their homeland and later committed crimes faced deportation under the Trump administration regardless of a 2008 agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam that excludes Vietnamese nationals who arrived before July 12, 1995, from being subject to deportation.

Last December, ICE spokesperson Carissa Cutrell confirmed there were 86 Vietnamese nationals 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, Asian Law Caucus staff attorney.

“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 and was safe to return. So there’s definitely this conflict there.”

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

Thomas Cartwright, a member of Witness at the Border, confirmed that the deportation plane landed in Vietnam on Tuesday night. Witness at the Border began tracking deportation flight information in 2020 knowing that ICE doesn’t disclose information about their flights to anyone including Congress members.

Prasad hadn’t heard from his clients yet as of Wednesday.

“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.

A fundraiser to help Pham with his basic expenses and reentry support was created online 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,” 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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