- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Vietnamese immigrant accused of punching a high-ranking Vietnamese official in the District last summer admitted yesterday to the assault, as part of a plea agreement in U.S. District Court.

The guilty plea could place Tuan Phuoc Le — a legal, permanent resident of the United States already facing deportation because of a previous domestic assault — in further danger of being sent back to Vietnam.

“You may get deported — this is a felony conviction,” U.S. District Court Judge Ellen S. Huvelle told Le at the plea hearing. “It may have an adverse effect on your immigration” status.

However, Le’s defense attorney, Kenneth Robinson, said it is unlikely that his client would be deported to Vietnam because he would be oppressed, imprisoned, or worse in the communist-controlled country.

“Immigration has assured us they will never send him back to Vietnam,” Mr. Robinson said. “There would be terrible consequences.”

Le, 35, of Atlanta, admitted to punching in the face Nguyen Quoc Huy, vice chairman of the Vietnamese prime minister’s office, during a protest at the Willard InterContinental Hotel.

Mr. Robinson had initially planned an insanity defense for Le. He said the incident was the result of post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by the communists’ torturing his client for being the son of a black U.S. soldier, who was killed in action during the Vietnam War.

But Mr. Robinson said he abandoned the defense because Le still would have been committed to a mental-health facility for a long period of time, even if found not guilty after a trial.

“He would’ve been committed … for longer than he’s going to do,” Mr. Robinson said.

As part of the plea agreement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Hegyi and Mr. Robinson recommended a sentence of 18 months in prison, with nine months suspended, on the charge of assaulting a foreign official.

Le also would receive credit for time served, undergo three years probation upon his release and would receive psychological and anger-management counseling.

He also would have to stay away from Vietnamese officials and government buildings and pay $550 in medical costs incurred by Mr. Huy. Judge Huvelle will sentence Le on Oct. 12.

Le’s Vienna, Va.-based immigration lawyer, Parastoo Zahedi, said her client could be sent to Vietnam because of the prior and new conviction, although immigration officials have said the communist nation does not have an immigration agreement with the United States.

“They may have an interest in taking him back,” Miss Zahedi said. “If new charges come up, then we have to go forward on those as well.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Ernestine Fobbs said the agency has deported people back to Vietnam before, but most of those deported go willingly and secure their own travel documents.

Miss Zahedi said she is arguing that Le’s previous assault conviction not be deemed an aggravated felony, which would mean Le could not be deported because of the charge.

An immigration judge is expected to rule on that motion by the end of August, Miss Zahedi said.

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