A Vietnamese immigrant is facing deportation after punching a high-ranking Vietnamese official visiting Washington late last month.
Tuan Phuoc Le, 34, of Atlanta, punched in the face Nguyen Quoc Huy, vice chairman of the Prime Minister’s Office for the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, during a protest at the Willard InterContinental Hotel on June 21, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in the District.
Mr. Le said Mr. Huy “was a communist” and “he killed my U.S. Marine father in Vietnam,” court records show.
Ernestine Fobbs, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said legal immigrants can face deportation if they commit a serious crime.
“When you become a permanent resident, you swear you will adhere to regulations here in the U.S. and … that you will be a lawful permanent resident,” Miss Fobbs said. “If they commit a crime, since they’re not U.S. citizens, they are subject to removal from the United States.”
Most immigrants who become permanent residents are eligible for that status on the basis of a close relationship to a U.S. citizen, job skills needed by a U.S. employer or humanitarian concerns.
Mr. Le likely would be oppressed and imprisoned if he were sent back to the communist country, human rights advocates say.
“Dissidents are harassed, isolated and in some cases imprisoned,” said Minky Worden, media director for Human Rights Watch. “Critics of any kind don’t really fare very well in Vietnam.”
Mr. Le was a member of a group called My Voice, My Country that protested Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai’s visit to Washington last month, court records show. The group staged a large demonstration, replete with waving flags and blaring bullhorns.
Mr. Le spotted Mr. Huy, a member of the prime minister’s delegation, in the rear of the hotel and punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground, the criminal complaint states.
Mr. Le is charged with assaulting and injuring a foreign official, a violation of Title 18 of the U.S. Code that carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison. He is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court July 29.
His attorney, federal public defender David Bos, would not comment on the case but described it as a “very compelling story.”
Deporting someone to Vietnam can be difficult because the communist nation does not have an immigration agreement with the United States, Miss Fobbs said. In fiscal 2004, ICE deported 18 Vietnamese nationals, 14 of whom were criminals.
Mr. Le’s case has attracted widespread attention via Web sites such as www.tin360.com and www.nam360.com.
Duc Tran, a Vietnamese immigrant in Philadelphia, has followed the case. Mr. Le’s story has made him a hero to many American-Asians who suffered under Vietnam’s communist rule, he said.
“He broke the ice of fear for the first time,” Mr. Tran told The Washington Times. “I want to see how the courts are going to interpret his act. In Vietnam we cannot protest, but here we can protest.”
The Web site www.nam360.com carries comments from around the world in support of Mr. Le and Jerry Kiley, a Vietnam veteran facing simple assault charges after throwing red wine in Mr. Khai’s direction at a banquet June 21.
The Web site — founded by Mr. Kiley, other veterans and members of the Vietnamese community — has raised about $25,000 in legal fees for the two men, Mr. Tran said.
Mr. Kiley told The Times that he shared a holding cell with Mr. Le after their arrests. Mr. Le did not at first fully understand that he might be sent back to Vietnam until Mr. Kiley explained it to him.
“If they ship him back to Vietnam, just do him a favor and shoot him here, because they’ll torture him and murder him over there,” he said.