As deportations and detentions continue to rock the Vietnamese community in the U.S., the former ambassador to Vietnam has revealed that those “repatriations” were the reason for his October departure.
Writing in the April issue of Foreign Service Journal, Ted Osius said he was instructed to press the Vietnamese government to repatriate more than 8,000 people ― most of whom were refugees who had “fled South Vietnam on boats and through the jungle” after the Vietnam War.
“The majority targeted for deportation — sometimes for minor infractions — were war refugees who had sided with the United States, whose loyalty was to the flag of a nation that no longer exists,” Osius wrote. “And they were to be ‘returned’ decades later to a nation ruled by a communist regime with which they had never reconciled. I feared many would become human rights cases, and our government would be culpable.”
The former diplomat said a number of the Trump administration’s foreign policy decisions didn’t sit right with those in the foreign relations field. Among those moves, he said, were the United States’ exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, its “abdication of responsibility” on climate change, and the travel ban targeting mostly Muslim-majority countries.
“What happened to the nation that welcomed ‘your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free?’” Osius asked.
I voiced my objections, was instructed to remain silent, and decided there was an ethical line that I could not cross if I wished to retain my integrity. Ted Osius
But the former ambassador said he reached his limit when he was told to push for the repatriations. Not only did he feel this was a human rights issue, Osius said, but also that this “repulsive policy” would interfere with President Donald Trump’s other goals in Vietnam, like reducing the trade deficit and bolstering military relations.
“I voiced my objections, was instructed to remain silent, and decided there was an ethical line that I could not cross if I wished to retain my integrity,” he wrote. “I concluded that I could better serve my country from outside government, by helping to build a new, innovative university in Vietnam.”
A State Department spokesperson gave HuffPost a statement that said Osius is “entitled to his personal views” as a private citizen, but doubled down on the Trump administration’s deportation policy.
“We respect Ambassador Osius’ many years of service to the U.S. government,” the statement said. “Facilitating the removal of aliens from the United States who are subject to a final order of removal, particularly those who pose a danger to national security or public safety, is a top priority for the U.S. government.”
The statement also said that “each country has an international legal obligation to accept the return of its nationals whom another state seeks to expel, remove, or deport,” and claimed that the U.S. has been cooperating with foreign governments in documenting and accepting “our citizens.”
Many of the refugees who are facing deportation entered the U.S. legally in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and obtained green cards as well. After being convicted of crimes, many of which occurred decades ago, the refugees received orders of removal due to their criminal records.
But many have not had contact with the criminal justice system for years and have been leading new lives, advocates say. Nancy Nguyen, the executive director of a nonprofit VietLead, explained that the greater Southeast Asian community is grappling with many of the issues Osius raised.
“Osius’ writings reflect the concerns and worries of many Vietnamese and Southeast Asian families who are now threatened with deportation,” she told HuffPost in an email. “Folks are being forced to return to a country they do not know, being separated from families in the U.S. that depend on them.”
Nguyen noted that several of these deportations violate a 2008 agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam. That “Memorandum of Understanding” allowed for the deportation of Vietnamese nationals who face removal orders only if they arrived in the U.S. on or after July 12, 1995.
However, she said, there have been several recent cases where authorities detained Vietnamese nationals who arrived before 1995. A few have also been deported. The MOU is still in force, according to Nguyen.
A few weeks ago, around 40 Vietnamese refugees who came to the U.S. before the 1995 cutoff sued U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for unlawful, prolonged detention. The lawsuit noted that many more could be in a similar situation. In total, about 8,000 to 10,000 Vietnamese refugees have orders of removal and are at risk for detention.
The mass roundups and detentions have spanned the Southeast Asian community, likely affecting U.S. relations with several other nations, Nguyen said. More than 40 Cambodians were deported earlier this month.
“The United States is continuing to bully these countries. This is not just about Vietnam, but about all the countries that the U.S. is now bullying to take back more and more of our community members ― this includes Cambodia, this includes Laos,” Nguyen told HuffPost. “We fear that the U.S. will continue to retreat from its responsibilities to these countries and our community members who bore witness to mass carnage and war only decades ago.”