Gen­er­a­tions di­vided on Viet­namese fight against de­por­ta­tion

The Tribune (SLO) - - State - BY ANH DO AND MOLLY O'TOOLE

In his 85 years, Lan Hoang has many times seen and heard about the power of com­mu­nism to stir pas­sions on the streets of Lit­tle Saigon.

There was the time a video store owner dis­played the flag of com­mu­nist Viet­nam and an im­age of Ho Chi Minh, caus­ing thou­sands of an­gry res­i­dents to protest. Ten years ago, hun­dreds of peo­ple hoist­ing signs gath­ered out­side a West­min­ster news­pa­per that pub­lished a photo of a foot spa bear­ing the col­ors and stripes of the anti-com­mu­nist South Viet­namese flag, call­ing it a des­e­cra­tion.

But when Hoang turned up to a protest in the neigh­bor­hood against the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­cent threats to de­port Viet­namese im­mi­grants with crim­i­nal con­vic­tions back to their home­land, he was sur­prised by the ap­par­ently tepid re­sponse by older im­mi­grants. Usu­ally the most fer­vently anti-com­mu­nist, only a handful showed up.

“Ev­ery­one was shout­ing and I looked around, won­der­ing, ‘Where are the peo­ple my age?’ “said the re­tired records clerk from Santa Ana, who ad­mit­ted he was shocked by the White House’s move. “It’s so in­spir­ing to see the youth tak­ing ac­tion. They are well-ed­u­cated, wellor­ga­nized. I only wish that the oth­ers who have been vis­i­ble for many years were here to sup­port them.”

After word spread about a re­newed push by the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity to get Viet­nam to ac­cept more de­por­tees, some peo­ple saw it as a mis­take by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion given the GOP’s fad­ing strength in Or­ange County and the his­tor­i­cal sup­port that the Repub­li­can Party has got­ten from Viet­namese Amer­i­cans.

But in a com­mu­nity where many older res­i­dents op­pose un­doc­u­mented im­mi­gra­tion and younger ones tend to lean left po­lit­i­cally, the con­tro­versy is just the lat­est to un­der­score the gen­er­a­tional di­vide among those of Viet­namese de­scent.

“So many of our lives are in limbo. And do we get any sup­port from our own com­mu­nity? Very lit­tle if you’re talk­ing about the el­ders. What hap­pened to all the voices speak­ing out for an­ti­com­mu­nism? Why haven’t they mo­bi­lized?” said Tung Nguyen, 40, a Santa Ana ac­tivist who has served time in prison and helped lead protests in Lit­tle Saigon. “If they re­ally care about hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions, well, vi­o­la­tions are hap­pen­ing, not just in Viet­nam but right here in our back­yard.”

Ear­lier this month, Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials met with their coun­ter­parts from Hanoi to talk about a pact the two coun­tries signed in 2008, un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, that pro­tected the Viet­namese who came to the U.S. be­fore July 12, 1995, from de­por­ta­tion.

More than 8,000 Viet­namese res­i­dents in the U.S. who es­caped their home­land but later com­mit­ted crimes – even mi­nor ones for which they have served time — would be at risk of de­por­ta­tion if of­fi­cials suc­ceed in chang­ing the agree­ment. Over­all, since 1998, more than 9,000 Viet­namese im­mi­grants have re­ceived a fi­nal or­der of re­moval, ac­cord­ing to the South­east Asia Re­source Ac­tion Cen­ter.

Kim Bui, a 19-year-old sales clerk at an Ana­heim snack shop, said mem­bers of her par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion and older tend to be “noshows” when the topic is im­mi­gra­tion and de­por­ta­tions.

“I think these is­sues have a stigma to them. The older peo­ple are heav­ily Repub­li­can and they’re very fo­cused on tra­di­tional val­ues,” said Bui, who grew up in Or­ange County. “They are happy to talk about in­jus­tice in their home­land and they want to stay in that box, with­out mak­ing waves about U.S. pol­i­tics.”

On so­cial me­dia and in the main­stream press, some young ad­vo­cates for the emerg­ing anti-de­por­ta­tion move­ment say they’ve long pushed for fair­ness and equal­ity, and that Viet­namese Amer­i­cans have shown up for other im­mi­grant groups through­out U.S. his­tory.

Still, within their own group, what’s miss­ing is the “lead­er­ship of the older gen­er­a­tion,” said Nguyen.

“We un­der­stand if they’re ashamed of some of us for our mis­takes and our ar­rests,” he said, re­fer­ring to im­mi­grants with crim­i­nal records. “But do they need to pun­ish our wives and chil­dren? Why would they not come out and fight for us so fam­i­lies can stay to­gether? Why sep­a­rate peo­ple who have paid the price for their bad choices or who will be ex­ploited in Viet­nam?”

Un­til last month, Nguyen was at risk for be­ing de­ported to Viet­nam. In 1996, he had been sen­tenced to life in prison for not in­ter­ven­ing while one of his bud­dies stabbed a man to death. In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown al­lowed him an early re­lease, rec­og­niz­ing his brav­ery for sav­ing dozens of civil­ians in a prison riot. Brown then gave Nguyen a full par­don this past Thanks­giv­ing.

Last year, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion started pur­su­ing the re­moval of a num­ber of long-term res­i­dents from Viet­nam and Cam­bo­dia, and to a lesser ex­tent, Lao­tians, some of whom ar­rived in the United States decades ago as refugees, ac­cord­ing to im­mi­grant rights ad­vo­cates and lawyers who have sued to halt the push. The ad­min­is­tra­tion main­tains many have crim­i­nal records that sub­ject them to de­por­ta­tion.

“It’s a pri­or­ity of this ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­move crim­i­nal aliens to their home coun­try,” Katie Wald­man, a spokes­woman for the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, told The Times.

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