Thursday, February 14, 2008

U.S.-Vietnam deportation plan needs 2nd look. United States has served as a model for freedom and democracy and Immigration officials should tread carefully in order to uphold those ideals

For years, America has offered a beacon of hope and freedom for people from all over the world. That's one big reason the United States has more than 1 million immigrants from Vietnam, many of whom fled war and oppression in their homeland.

So it's disturbing that U.S. immigration officials, under a new Washington-Hanoi repatriation pact, soon will begin deporting undocumented Vietnamese back to the authoritarian country they left. This reversal of longstanding practice is troubling on political and humanitarian grounds. Officials should hold off on the deportations until Congress can review the situation more closely, as Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, and 12 other lawmakers have suggested.

To be sure, many of the illegal immigrants who could be sent back have criminal convictions in the United States. Those who have committed serious felonies, such as murder, kidnapping or child sexual abuse should not be given refuge here. But those convicted of lesser crimes, have already completed jail time or simply overstayed their visas are another matter. It makes sense to take a closer look at these individual cases.

The pact signed in late January affects about 1,500 Vietnamese nationals who arrived here on or after July 12, 1995, and are in deportation proceedings or have received a final deportation order. The pact doesn't affect those who arrived earlier, since the United States did not have diplomatic relations with Vietnam then
Overall, there are about 8,000 Vietnamese nationals facing deportation; about 7,000 of them have criminal convictions.
The United States has repatriation agreements with many countries, but most of them are not authoritarian. Vietnam is unique because of its legacy of war and persecution, the U.S. role in Vietnam's history and the poor human rights record of the communist government in Hanoi
. Its unsatisfactory record has been recently documented by the U.S. State Department, among others.

Returnees would likely face abuse or discrimination from a government that doesn't look kindly on their leaving in the first place. Lofgren, who chairs a House subcommittee on immigration, notes that the United States doesn't send illegal Cuban immigrants back to Fidel Castro's regime.

The United States has long been respected for welcoming foreigners, who enrich and strengthen American society. And the United States has served as a model for freedom and democracy. Immigration officials should tread carefully in order to uphold those ideals

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