Legal Research: American Immigration

Topics: Vietnamese

In 2008, Vietnam and the U.S. signed a bilateral agreement that Vietnamese immigrants who arrived in the United States before July 12, 1995, would not face deportation even if they had a criminal record. Since the communist takeover in Vietnam in 1975, nearly Nearly 1.3 million Vietnamese citizens have immigrated to the United States. A large number of these immigrants were refugees of the Vietnam war who had sided with the U.S. This bilateral agreement is closely tied to the American Homecoming Act or the Amerasian Act—an Act of Congress passed in 1988—which gave immigration preference to the children of American service members born in Vietnam between 1962 and 1976.

Both of these policies came from the U.S. Government’s decision to aid refugees fleeing from a communist regime.

Starting in 2017, the Trump administration and the U.S. Immigration and CustomVietnamese wages Enforcement agency (ICE) seemingly completely disregarded the 2008 agreement and began to crack down on Vietnamese immigrants. In an interview with The Diplomat, Phi Nguyen, the litigation director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice, stated, “Vietnamese people around the country with final orders of removal were being picked up by ICE… There was a big roundup in March in Miami [2017], and the second-round in October and November in Georgia.

” The Trump administration argued that the bilateral agreement did not protect immigrants with criminal records. Of the 8,000 or so Vietnamese rounded up by ICE, around 7,700 of them had committed crimes at some point in their lives. The nature of these crimes varied from violent acts to possession of marijuana.

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When questioned about ICE’s targeting of Vietnamese immigrants, public affairs officer Brendan Raedy stated, “enforcement resources are focused ‘on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety, and border security.’”

The reality of returning to Vietnam is harsh for almost all of the Vietnamese Americans detained by ICE. Tammy Nguyen, the wife of Dy Nguyen (Dy is facing detention and deportation due to a 2010 burglary conviction), told The Guardian she was horrified at the possibility of her husband’s deportation, “I don’t know how the government in Vietnam would treat people like him.” She refers to the documented cold and alienating reception most Vietnamese Americans receive in Vietnam. Most of these immigrants fled their home country when they were children—their remaining family members, if they have any, are strangers. The tensions between the U.S. and Vietnam make returning a terrifying proposition. Pham Chi Cuong, a Vietnamese American deported on December 20th, 2017, explained that because his work application says, “Asian American”, he cannot find any work in Vietnam.

The problem with deportation, invariably, is a failure to account for the reality of human life. As we are seeing today, with the current administration’s continued attempts to satisfy its rabid constituents with promises of deporting immigrants (and returning those coinciding jobs to the native economy), actually uprooting human lives and moving them somewhere else is an incredibly difficult thing to do, even if those lives have strong ties to foreign nations.

Robert Huynh, the son of an American serviceman and a Vietnamese woman, is one of the more recent examples. In a Washington Post piece by Simon Denyer, Huynh admits that he has served time for non-violent crimes in the past. However, he has also been in the US since he was 14. He’s now 48. Criminal record or not, his life is firmly entrenched in America. He is a product of our culture, and, at least in recent years, a positive contributor to our society. Deporting him for prior crimes makes about as much sense as deporting an ex-con born in Manhattan. Someone’s nationality is certainly a part of their identity, in a general sense. In a practical one, however, family and community mean a lot more.

It’s an easier sell for the current administration to pretend as though the families being separated are returning to other countries to find scores of family members waiting for them. The truth is, that is rarely the case. Most people either immigrated to America to rejoin their families or immigrated to start one.

Judy Yung’s Unbound Feet, published by the University of California Press, begins with a record of her family history. It may come as a surprise, but not long ago America had laws that prohibited white people from marrying Asian people. As a result, though many Chinese men immigrated to the US in search of work, there was little integration into the community. While these policies were (foolishly) intended to preserve a separation between Americans and Chinese, the human proclivity to settle and establish a community meant that this ultimately drove a wedge between European-Americans and Asian-Americans, a divide that we are still seeing the effects of today. Separating families has never been an effective prospect, nor has regulating immigration based on race. There can be no broad lines drawn in such a specific field

Ultimately, Huynh’s case is no different from most other immigration cases in that crucial way: It’s different. Most modern immigration policy is, at best, a clumsy attempt at a one size fits all way to police a set of cases with infinitely wide variance. Our attempts to create a ‘fair’ immigration system, as detailed by Mae M. Ngai, have only created an uneven distribution of migrants across the world, with many countries having a surplus of resources and others with a surplus of migrants. Nationally, we have seen our introduction of migrants lead to a less and less equitable society, as migrants have not so much integrated seamlessly into the general populace as created a migrant class.

Moreover, our refusal to view cases as individuals has created a tangle of contradictory policies when it comes to who gets in, and who does not. Huynh was granted a green card but lacked the necessary education and means to pursue citizenship. Just like Judy Yung. He grew up here. His life is here.

In her book, How Race is Made in America, Natalia Molina discusses the contradiction between the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 and the ongoing attempts to disenfranchise Asian Americans in the early 20th century. The Gentlemen’s Agreement was an informal agreement between the US and Japan to reduce restrictions on Japanese immigration. This agreement was made to reduce tensions between the two countries and is strikingly similar to the 2008 bilateral agreement between the US and Vietnam. Even though this agreement was in place Japanese immigrants still faced bigotry, isolation, and not-so-subtle schemes to get them out. Molina explains that at this time white farmers began to grow discontent with the growing Japanese immigrant population because “Japanese farmers were allowed to farm the land and thus had forced white men to lower their standard of living.” Molina goes on to reveal how old racial scripts were used to, “manage and police,” the Japanese. Congressman Samuel Dickstein evoked Jim Crow when he stated, “you in California have not provided for [segregation]; that is the trouble.” Not 6 years after the Gentleman’s Agreement the Alien Land Law Acts came into play—an assortment of policies prohibiting Asian immigrants from owning land or leasing for more than 3 years. The Alien Land Law Acts left many Japanese American farmers with no choice but to return home. Molina summarizes this situation quite nicely by stating regardless of the Gentlemen’s Act, “we find lawmakers discussing ways to restrict the rights of Asian immigrants and Asian Americans.” They say history repeats itself and, indeed, the similarities between the plight of the Japanese immigrants of the early 20th century and the Vietnamese immigrants of the early 21st century are jarringly similar. In both cases, the U.S. Government employed racial scripts to serve as an official, explanation for appalling policies. In the case of the Japanese, it was the age-old problem of miscegenation and the threat to the American citizen’s wage, and in the case of the Vietnamesewage, they are being painted as the ‘dangerous foreigner’ who must be removed to keep Americans safe. As Molina so poignantly writes, “race is not made in one key moment or even in a single pivotal era but is continually reinforced and recalibrated.”

David Gutierrez’s “The ‘New Normal’? Reflections on the Shifting Politics of the Immigration Debate” and Simon Denyer’s “Thousands of Vietnamese, including offspring of U.S. troops, could be deported under Trump policy,” are two articles that offer up an excellent comparison between two different tactical treatments of the same issue. David Gutierrez utilizes a high-level analysis of the shortcomings of the current discourse surrounding immigration, tracing socioeconomic trends and events to underscore his point. His argument finds footing in his examination of unacknowledged factors surrounding U.S. immigration history on a broad scale, tying the waxing and waning of America’s capitalist economy to historical waves of immigration, including the present-day influx that is so hotly debated. Indeed, Gutierrez is less concerned with falling in with one side of the immigration issue or the other. Instead, he bemoans the lack of nuance and completeness shackling the current wisdom, describing it as “careen[ing] between outright expulsion and providing resident aliens with some ‘path to citizenship”. Rather, his main objective is to shine a light on the underpinning economics of so-called illegal immigration (a term that, given the U.S ‘s mercurial relationship with foreign labor over the past century, he finds lacks concrete meaning), pointing to the “insatiability of the demand side of the capital/labor equation” as the core reason for historical immigration flows. By chronicling the history of foreign workers in the U.S. from a bird’s eye view, Gutierrez successfully distances his argument from the mudslinging impulses of the current immigration debate and adopts a methodology of objective deconstruction. It’s a strategy that makes his final recommendation, that pundits who seek to fix the country’s broken systems of immigration and citizenship “grapple honestly with how those systems mesh or do not mesh with our systems of economic production and consumption”, that much more salient.

Conversely, while Gutierrez zooms out, Simon Denyer zooms in. Though his article still seeks to highlight the failings of modern immigration politics, Denyer employs the anecdotal stories of two Vietnamese immigrants, Robert Hyunh and Tung Nguyen, interspersing the retelling of his subjects’ lives with statistics and facts surrounding immigration policies. It’s a rendering of the issue that relies on emotional appeal through their subjective experience. The article emphasizes their plights, as Hyunh laments at one point, “My mother is 83 years old right now, and I want to be here when she passes away…I don’t have anyone in Vietnam. My life is here in the United States”. By highlighting the human aspect of the immigration debate, Denyer underscores an obvious but perhaps overlooked point in the traditionally binary debate: the effects of immigration policy are personal and messy, as impactful on the individual level as it is on the macroeconomic scale. However, like Gutierrez, Denyer also does not explicitly come down on either side of the debate, presenting Hyunh’s and Nguyen’s stories with little subjective assessment leaving any insinuated policy recommendations up to the reader’s interpretation. Granted, there are emotional implications that aim to expose flaws in the “deport all illegals” mentality but Denyer dons the guise of journalistic impartiality to highlight the nuanced complexity missing from immigration politics, demonstrated by his subject choice of convicted criminals and his reporting of opposing outlooks on the diplomatic situation with Vietnam. Because of this semblance of impartiality, the article softens from what could have been a scathing denouncement of the increased deportations to a more thoughtful exploration of the human side of the issue.

Using their distinct methodologies, both articles land in the same murky middle ground between the two opposing camps on modern immigration. Or rather, the land outside the arena, offering a new, nuanced perspective, each with and,areit unique lens. In avoiding any unnecessary politicization, both authors succeed in a deconstruction of the issue, one founded upon historical analysis and the other rooted in subjective emotions. Their efficacy is ultimately decided by the reader, but this distancing from the actual debate is a powerful tactic, and perhaps speaks to the current state of the immigration debate–one that has devolved into absolutism on both sides. A sustainable solution may only be possible by equipping the same reframing tactics that Denyer and Gutierrez employ.

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Legal Research: American Immigration. (2022, May 13). Retrieved from

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