The local Vietnamese community is on edge after reports that the Trump administration is trying to renegotiate a treaty with Vietnam that would allow Trump to deport thousands of people—including people who came to the U.S. as orphaned babies during the Vietnam war. On Friday, the local community led a rally protesting Trump’s actions and calling for renewed protections for the refugees.
“These are the people that experienced trauma beyond our imagination… Here we are once again trying to traumatize them,” said My-Linh Thai, a state representative from Seattle’s Eastside and a refugee herself.
For decades, the U.S. had a longstanding policy to not deport any Vietnamese people back to their home country. That changed in 2008 when a treaty was signed with Vietnam to allow the deportations of some people that came to the U.S. after 1995, but that treaty reaffirmed that people who came here before 1995 were not eligible for deportation regardless of their criminal histories.
Trump, as part of his hardline campaign against immigrants and refugees from around the globe, reportedly wants to change that and allow the deportation of around 8,000 people that have been convicted of crimes but came here before 1995. That includes people that came to the U.S. as children or even infants and have little to no connection to Vietnam.
Co Thu Van, a Vietnamese refugee that works as an immigration counselor at Seattle’s Asian Counseling and Referral Service, said Trump’s policy would cruelly punish people who are American in every way other than their citizenship status.
“Trump’s attempt to go back on this 2008 agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam would rip apart thousands of American families,” Thu Van said.
Kris Larsen, one of the organizers of Friday’s event and a refugee also at risk of deportation, said an estimated 1,000 people in Washington state are at risk of being deported. Washington has one of the largest Vietnamese populations in the country.
Joe Nguyen, a state Senator that represents West Seattle and portions of Burien and the son of Vietnamese refugees, said the state legislature was looking to find ways to protect the community.
“What they are saying is they want to deport people that have families back to a country they have never been since they were very little. This is not OK and we know that we are here together… we are made better by our diversity. Despite what is being said at the national level, we are here and we are here to stay,” Nguyen said.
Tung Nguyen said he was at risk of deportation until he received a pardon from the governor of California. He told the crowd that there was no reason for deporting people that spent their whole lives in the U.S., even if they had committed a crime.
“This is our home,” Nguyen said. “And the people the U.S. is currently targeting right now, yes they have prior convictions like me but they learned their lesson. They got out of prison and moved on to become a law-abiding citizen. They are community members like every single one of us.”
Jessica Do, a member of the Vietnamese Student Association at UW, said Trump’s “cruel and unjust” actions were part of a larger action against Southeast Asian refugees.
“Prior to this, the U.S. has already successfully pressured Cambodia and Laos to take refugees back through visa sanctions… the majority targeted for deportation, sometimes for minor infractions, were war refugees who sided with the United States,” Do said.
Do added that the reason many of the refugees came to the U.S. was because of the country’s own war actions against these Asian countries.
“Southeast Asian refugees and immigrants in the U.S. are a result of war and genocide. The 2008 [treaty] is part of the humanitarian effort to pay reparations to the violence in this region," Do said.
Friday’s rally opened with a prayer and speeches from three indigenous people representing the Duwamish Tribe, Paulous Tribe, and Roxanne White from the Nez Perce Tribe.
“This is not right to be separating families. They haven’t asked us indigenous people, ‘what do you think?’ It is our indigenous land and we would have told Trump to go away. But they don’t ask us and you are welcome here,” White said.
An earlier version of this post misidentified Jessica Do.