Immigration and Customs Enforcement photo

The Trump administration is expanding the scope of its Deport Everybody immigration policy again, this time with a plan to make thousands of Vietnamese immigrants -- many of whom fled Vietnam during the war, or shortly after the collapse of South Vietnam -- subject to deportation as "criminal aliens," even for minor misdemeanors. The new policy is aimed at allowing deportation of Vietnamese who arrived in the US prior to the establishment of diplomatic relations with Vietnam in 1995 and then committed offenses subject to deportation. A 2008 agreement with the Vietnamese government had allowed deportations only of post-1995 migrants, but Team Trump has returned -- after a brief pause -- to insisting it can deport anyone it wants on any pretext, and besides, "criminal aliens" shouldn't have any protections at all, even if they came here fleeing the US's most disastrous foreign adventure. Whether Vietnam will agree to accept any of the people newly marked for deportation, however, is another matter entirely. But the main point, as ever with Trump, is to make immigrants afraid and keep bigots happy.

The new approach to pre-1995 Vietnamese immigrants is an extension of Trump's overall approach to immigrants: make as many people eligible for deportation as possible, even if the government may not actually go rounding people up en masse. Just as long as nobody is considered a low priority for immigration enforcement, regardless of how minor their offense is, including not having the right papers. About 8,000 people are likely to be subject to possible deportation under the new policy on Vietnamese immigrants. This won't affect most of the nearly 1.3 million Vietnamese who fled to the US as refugees after the war -- most are naturalized citizens already, or green card holders who haven't had a brush with the law.

Still, it's a big shift away from previous policy on deportations to Vietnam. As the Atlantic reported yesterday, the 2008 agreement between the US and Vietnam specifically prohibits deportation of Vietnamese immigrants who came to the US before 1995. The Trump administration unilaterally reinterpreted the agreement in 2017, insisting it couldn't possibly cover criminals, even if they were children who arrived here as "boat people" in the 1970s and got green cards, but later had a DUI or drove without a license, because even a misdemeanor makes them a threat to national security.

Vietnam initially accepted at least 11 deportees, but in August of this year, the Trump administration put the new interpretation on hold after Vietnam made clear it didn't want to accept anyone who had come to the US before 1995. Most of those people had been loyal to a country that no longer exists, and darned if Vietnam wants those enemies of the communist state, even if the US says they're undesirables for spending a night in jail once in 1988. In the fall of 2017, US Ambassador Ted Osius -- who doesn't count because he was an Obama appointee and therefore is a Deep State criminal himself -- was outraged by the plan to send back refugees that Vietnam would see as potential enemies. But after he objected to it, the Trump administration taught him! He was removed from his post and then resigned from the State Department.

In an essay for the American Foreign Service Association in April, Osius explained why he'd resisted pushing the Vietnamese government to take deportees it didn't want:

The majority targeted for deportation—sometimes for minor infractions—were war refugees who had sided with the United States, whose loyalty was to the flag of a nation that no longer exists. And they were to be "returned" decades later to a nation ruled by a communist regime with which they had never reconciled. I feared many would become human rights cases, and our government would be culpable.

I assessed that this repulsive policy would destroy our chances of success in pursuing President Donald Trump's other goals for relations with Vietnam [...] I voiced my objections, was instructed to remain silent, and decided there was an ethical line that I could not cross if I wished to retain my integrity

And no, the USA isn't in the grip of a crime wave by Vietnamese immigrants -- or any immigrants, really. Research by the libertarian Cato Institute shows 60 percent of "criminal aliens" were guilty of victimless crimes like immigration violations, traffic offenses, or drug offenses. Only 12 percent of aliens deported had committed violent crimes. (For sticklers, no, the study didn't break down the numbers by nationality.)

But now, the administration wants to add Vietnamese immigrants from any year to the pool of people it could deport if it wants, because fear of deportation is mandatory for all foreigns whose papers aren't in perfect order. Besides, as US embassy in Hanoi spokesman James Thrower told the Atlantic, if you read the 2008 agreement really carefully, maybe there's a neat loophole!

"The United States and Vietnam signed a bilateral agreement on removals in 2008 that establishes procedures for deporting Vietnamese citizens who arrived in the United States after July 12, 1995, and are subject to final orders of removal," Thrower said. "While the procedures associated with this specific agreement do not apply to Vietnamese citizens who arrived in the United States before July 12, 1995, it does not explicitly preclude the removal of pre-1995 cases."

Nice little rhetorical trick there -- even if they fled the now-nonexistent Republic of Vietnam, they're totally Vietnamese citizens, so we need to get them out of here toot sweet. Yes, even though some of them are actually the children of American servicemen and Vietnamese civilians. Maybe they made it out during or after the collapse of Saigon and have established homes, businesses, and families here, but that doesn't mean they get any mercy at all, because what part of CRIMINAL don't you understand? Even if it's the level of crime -- like maybe a misdemeanor contempt of court charge -- that would win an old white Trump ally a pardon and the adulation of Trump supporters (don't be silly, it's totally different if a migrant does it).

Vox's Dara Lind points out, however, that the new Trump policy won't mean a thing if Vietnam refuses to play ball:

If the Vietnamese government hasn't agreed to this new interpretation, the Trump administration's new stance doesn't actually matter, because it still can't deport people unilaterally. The implication of the Atlantic article, however, is that the government of Vietnam is yielding to Trump's pressure.

As of yet, Vietnam isn't saying whether it will grant permission for anyone to be sent "back" from the US. And even if it does, that doesn't mean the 8,000 or so people affected by the policy change would be deported -- right away, or at all, says Lind:

There's also a difference between being eligible for deportation and actually being deported. As a rule, unauthorized immigrants in the US are subject to deportation — exceptions like the one carved out for pre-1995 Vietnamese arrivals are extremely rare. But the government has to find an immigrant, apprehend her, and get an immigration judge to order her deported before it can actually deport her.

Because most of the Vietnamese immigrants probably do already have final deportation orders, it will be easier for the government to track them down. [...]

But it's still going to have to exert energy and resources to do that — and it may not be able to, or may decide it's easier to simply wait until the next time a Vietnamese immigrant with a deportation order comes to the attention of local law enforcement.

Nevertheless, it's useful to Trump to give the impression that mass deportations are imminent, because it keeps immigrant communities in fear, and fearful is exactly how Trump and his white supremacist supporters want those people. The cruelty is the point, after all, and no good American wants to stand up for "criminals." Except maybe crazies who aren't nearly paranoid enough.

And if some of them came to America in the mistaken hope they'd be taken in, following our many, many betrayals of the Vietnamese who believed America was their ally, well tough shit -- no mercy for any criminals, because the law is the law, no exceptions or excuses. Unless you're a president and you have a distinguished senator to make excuses for you, of course.

[Atlantic / Vox / NYT / Foreign Service Journal / WaPo / Nation / Vox]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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