By Thu Nguyen Dec. 27, 2018
Being raised in a network of nail salons exposed me to the reality of Vietnamese refugees and immigrants who escaped the horrendous conditions of a Communist society. Even today, Vietnamese nationals are trying to leave behind their ethnic homeland to find basic freedoms and build a better life in the United States. While my own parents were fortunate to have access to higher education, graduating as electrical engineers from the University of Texas at El Paso and Northeastern University before opening a nail salon, many other Vietnamese immigrants were unable to navigate American systems, let alone scrape together the means to afford higher education.
However, educated in the United States or not, one thing remains the same among all Vietnamese immigrants and their children. They came to America to build a better future. Some toiled away in nail salons. Others had no other choice but to navigate around the law. Most of these folks have found their way to stability and their own American dreams.
Now the Trump administration is turning those dreams into nightmares. The U.S. and Vietnamese governments met recently to dissolve a 2008 memorandum of understanding that barred the deportation of Vietnamese immigrants who arrived in the United States before July 12, 1995 — when the two nations formally reestablished diplomatic relations.
Thousands of Vietnamese-Americans now face the threat of being sent back to a country they never knew. Earlier this month, I was able to hear from a Texas resident who had just started finding his own American Dream, only to have it all come crashing down.
Robert Huynh, 48, was born to an American serviceman during the Vietnam War and left behind with his Vietnamese mother. In 1984, Huynh’s mother brought him, then 14 years old, and his half-siblings to the United States under a government program that allowed Amerasians — those born in Asia to an Asian mother and U.S. military father — to enter the United States.
Today he operates a nail salon with his half-sister and girlfriend in Beaumont. His grandchildren, two boys ages 2 and 4 years old, live with his son, 27, who owns a nail salon in Louisville, Ky. His mother, now 84, resides in the Houston suburbs, and the four generations gather every few months there.
Huynh also faces deportation stemming from a more than decade-old charge for dealing ecstasy. He served three years behind bars, but the Trump administration is working to make him pay a lifetime penalty by ripping him away from his family, business and life in America. He has recently hired an immigration lawyer to continue to appeal his removal order. Huynh is just one of about 8,600 Vietnamese who are being targeted by the Trump administration’s self-proclaimed tough-on-immigration policy and will suffer if the U.S.-Vietnam memorandum is removed.
This story is not new. The Trump administration first reinterpreted this memorandum in 2017 and began deporting Vietnamese immigrants, but pulled back from this effort in August of 2018.
Maybe it takes a bit more of a personal connection for the general public to understand how dire of a situation this is. If you’ve ever gone to get a manicure or pedicure, you know just how hard-working, humble and loyal these Vietnamese immigrants are to their new home country. Trump’s crackdown will shatter communities and force many back to a country where they no longer have ties. It will inflict harm not only on the person being targeted, but also on their parents, children, spouses and siblings as well.
Our Vietnamese-American values center family, hard work and loyalty — values that leaders like Trump should work to promote and protect. For the administration to break its word on an agreement and tear families apart would be un-American and inhumane.
You can also support our Southeast Asian communities by signing the Change.org petition to urge the government to stop any renegotiations of the 2008 agreement.
Thu Nguyen is the senior communications Associate at OCA — Asian Pacific American Advocates and a native Houstonian.