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Former U.S. Ambassador To Vietnam Criticizes Plan To Deport Vietnamese Refugees


Since President Trump came into office, he has made clear his desire to restrict immigration. His administration has severely limited refugee admissions. It has banned travel from several mainly Muslim countries and detained and deported Central American asylum seekers. Now the administration wants to send back some members of another group that was assumed to be protected from deportation - Vietnamese people who came here in the aftermath of the Vietnam war. The administration first raised this idea last year then dropped it.

Now, though, the Department of Homeland Security says it does want to deport 7,000 convicted criminals, non-U.S. citizens, back to Vietnam. When the proposal first came up, the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam resigned in protest. That former diplomat, Ted Osius, is with us now by phone from Ho Chi Minh City.

Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.

TED OSIUS: It's a real pleasure, Michel. Thank you.

MARTIN: So could you just briefly remind us of when this particular group of people came to the United States and under what circumstances? I'm thinking here that - some people may be old enough to remember these pictures of sort of desperate people trying to flee on these rickety boats after the South fell to the communists. So just remind us of that history.

OSIUS: Yeah. Well, most came between 1975 and 1995. Saigon fell in '75. There were a lot of boat people who left Vietnam at that time and came to the United States. And we were the place of refuge for people who'd fought side by side with us during the war - in many cases, the children of American servicemen, but for the most part, people who were fleeing the regime that had unified Vietnam.

MARTIN: And what was the immigration status of these refugees?

OSIUS: Well, a lot of them eventually were able to get green cards. Some didn't get green cards because they got messed up with the law, or they didn't speak English well enough to get through the process. Some became American citizens, but some did not. And it's the ones who did not become American citizens who seemed to be at risk.

MARTIN: So the Trump administration says that this group of people are violent criminal aliens. To your knowledge, are they?

OSIUS: Some committed crimes. Some of them were not violent crimes. For example, there was a guy - Tuan (ph) from San Jose. He came to the United States as a teenager. He got in trouble. He stole a car. He spent three years in jail and then 18 years without any problems with the law at all. He got married. He started up a successful business, pays half a million dollars in taxes each year. He has 45 people working for him. He has grown-up kids. And he's been in detention for two years under threat of deportation. Now, this is a guy who committed crimes long, long ago after coming out of Vietnam and before he really settled into our country.

MARTIN: So you resigned your ambassadorship over this issue. Can I ask you why you feel so strongly about it?

OSIUS: So I resigned because I couldn't carry out many of the Trump administration's policies. But this was to me the worst one. I thought it was really un-American to be getting rid of people who fought side by side with us or were the children of servicemen. And I objected, and I objected multiple times. I sent messages to Secretary - then-Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis, to McMaster. I said I didn't think it was right to try to implement this policy.

MARTIN: Well, what would you say to folks who are listening to this conversation and saying, you know, if people have committed crimes, then they have forfeited the opportunity that was extended to them to be in this country? I mean, I can imagine where some people might not be terribly sympathetic. What would you say to them?

OSIUS: Well, I would say that you have to consider the circumstances that brought people to the United States. And I think members of Congress and most likely the American people don't necessarily support ejecting refugees who fought beside our soldiers in the 1960s and '70s or the children of our servicemen.

MARTIN: So, finally, you live in Vietnam now. You continue to live in Vietnam with your family.


MARTIN: What is your sense of how these people would be received if they were deported to Vietnam?

OSIUS: I know for a fact they won't be treated well at all. They don't have any family here anymore. All their families are in the United States. They have no way of getting a job here because they won't be able to be issued identity cards. If they're the children of American servicemen, they won't be trusted. They won't be able to get jobs. They will most likely end up in prison. And this future administration will consider them human rights cases and try to get them back to the United States. It doesn't make sense to be sending these people to Vietnam.

MARTIN: That's Ted Osius. He is the former United States ambassador to Vietnam. He's currently a senior adviser at Albright Stonebridge Group, and he joined us on the line from Ho Chi Minh City.

Ambassador, thank you so much for talking with us.

OSIUS: It was a pleasure. Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.