‘No job, no money’: Life in Vietnam for immigrants deported by U.S. in violation of 2008 bilateral deal

By James
Pearson, Japan Times, Apr 20, 2018

It wasn’t
until Pham Chi Cuong saw the plane waiting to deport him from the United States
that it sunk in that he was about to be sent back to Vietnam, the country he
fled in 1993.
deportee and Amerasian Pham Chi Cuong, 47, who was deported
from the U.S.,
smokes after eating along a street in Ho Chi Minh City,
Vietnam, on April 20. REUTERS
MINH CITY – Cuong and at least three other deportees who had lived in America
for decades were returned to Vietnam in December 2017 as part of a renewed
Trump administration push to deport immigrants convicted of crimes in the United

expulsions were carried out despite a 2008 bilateral agreement that Vietnamese
immigrants who arrived in the United States prior to 1995, many of whom had
supported the now defunct U.S.-backed state of South Vietnam, would not be sent
Cuong and
the other men, interviewed this week in Ho Chi Minh City, said they spent the
17-hour flight in enforced silence, their hands and legs in restraints.
to life in Vietnam, the men all said, has been difficult. They said they were
viewed with suspicion by Vietnamese officials and have had trouble finding
“If you
ask me ‘Do you want to come back to the U.S?’ I’ll give you the answer ‘Yes,’
but I don’t know how,” said Cuong, who left a wife and children back home in
Orlando, Florida.
of the men, who asked to be identified only by his last name of Nguyen, said he
was asked by local police officials when he returned to Vietnam if he worked
for the CIA.
He said
he was deported to Cam Ranh Bay, a place he had fled after the war because of
his family’s connections to the losing side. “I ran away from there,” said
were a lot of Americans there at the time, and my family worked for them,” he
added. “My uncle died in the war. He was a South Vietnamese soldier.”
It is not
known how many pre-1995 Vietnamese immigrants like Nguyen and Cuong have been
deported so far, but the Trump administration is seeking to send back
thousands, Washington’s former envoy to Hanoi said in an interview last week.
Vietnam has expressed reluctance to take back pre-1995 immigrants.
Of the
8,600 Vietnamese nationals in the United States that the U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency says are subject to deportation as of December
last year, “7,821 have criminal convictions,” an ICE spokesman said. The agency
said it could not say how many of the immigrants slated for deportation arrived
before 1995.
The White
House has declined to comment on the Vietnamese deportations. But the Trump
administration has labeled Vietnam and eight other countries “recalcitrant” for
their unwillingness to accept their deported nationals.
Abuse and
The son
of an American serviceman stationed in Saigon during the war, Cuong is
“Amerasian,” which he said subjected him to abuse and discrimination in Vietnam
after the war.
He didn’t
attend school and spent years ostracized and working in rice fields before
leaving the country in 1993 on a program that gave Amerasians like him a chance
to resettle in the United States.
despite being born to an American father and raising three American children in
Florida, Cuong never became a U.S. citizen.
It hadn’t
seemed necessary, he said, since he had come to the country legally and was
allowed to work. Then, in 2000, Cuong was convicted of assault and battery and
sentenced to 18 months in jail. In 2007, he was given one year probation for
driving under the influence.
times, Cuong was warned that his crimes made him eligible for deportation under
U.S. law, but at the time Vietnam was not accepting deportees back. He was
relieved in 2008, when the bilateral agreement on repatriations was signed in
which the return of pre-1995 refugees was specifically barred.
After his
arrests, Cuong checked in regularly with ICE as he was required to do, and stayed
out of trouble.
He held
down a steady job as a sushi chef and put his son through three years of
But in
October, 2017, he was taken into custody by ICE and two months later found
himself on a plane back to Vietnam.
Another of
the deportees, Bui Thanh Hung, is also Amerasian, born in 1973 to a Vietnamese
mother and an American soldier who died during the war.
Hung was
convicted of domestic violence in 2010, which he says came after he walked in
on his wife and another man. He spent six years in prison. Last year, he was
released into ICE custody and deported in December.
here, I have no job, no one to support me, no house to live in,” said Hung. He
said he was relying on new acquaintances to stay temporarily at their homes.
immigration advocates say they assumed the United States would be particularly
reluctant to expel Amerasians like Hung and Cuong, because of their American
fathers and the discrimination they had faced in postwar Vietnam.
“Those of
us in the Southeast Asian community were utterly shocked,” Tin Nguyen, a
U.S.-based lawyer, said of the ongoing deportations. Nguyen volunteers with the
Southeast Asian Coalition nonprofit and has been working with the deportees.
“It was
as if they forgot about the Vietnam War.”
Cuong and
Bui were deported with around 30 other deportees from Asian countries on a
plane that dropped people off in Myanmar and Cambodia before reaching its final
destination, Vietnam.
Now back
in the country they once fled, the men said they receive little support from
the Vietnamese government and are struggling to find work.
“I got no
money,” said Cuong. “My wife, sometimes she gives me a couple hundred dollars,
but nobody helps me, nothing.”