- - Thursday, December 20, 2018

For over a year now, the Trump administration has been back and forth regarding a 2008 policy that protects pre-1995 Vietnamese refugees from deportation. Most recently, the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi spokesperson James Thrower announced that the administration is planning to deport thousands of Vietnamese refugees who have committed crimes while living in the United States.

As an Orange County supervisor, I understand and prioritize public safety. We’ve seen the deadly effect of criminal illegal aliens being released to wander our streets due to California’s “sanctuary” laws. However, deporting Vietnamese refugees who have committed crimes is not in the same category, nor does it call for the same arguments for deporting criminal illegals.

In a timely move, President Trump has marshalled the most sweeping criminal reform bill in decades through the Senate, and it is expected to pass through the House. Aptly named the First Step Act, this historic legislation would allow nonviolent offenders more leniency.

This can directly be applied to the small number of Vietnamese refugees who are being threatened with deportation.

I came to the United States as a young immigrant firmly believing that America is a beacon of freedom, especially for those around the world escaping tyranny. Decades later, as a proud Asian American mother, businesswoman, and elected official, I continue to believe in our nation’s founding principles.

During and after the Vietnam War, thousands of South Vietnamese risked their lives to seek refuge within the United States — to escape political persecution or to create a better life.

The majority of those refugees landed in California, and the area I represent — Orange County — is home to more than 200,000 Vietnamese Americans, most of whom are law-abiding, hard-working contributors to our community. They are our friends and neighbors. They have built families and businesses here. Their culture has become our shared culture.

As with any group of people, there were some bad eggs. Deporting them is not the answer.

A very small population were convicted of criminal acts, paid the penalty, and the great majority are good, contributing residents for decades.

To this day human rights oppressing communists control Vietnam. As my Vietnamese-American friends and colleagues Chairman Andrew Do of the Orange County Board of Supervisors and Assemblyman Tyler Diep wrote in a letter to President Trump, “These refugees would be blacklisted and denied basic human rights. This is not a perceived threat; it is, in fact, a national policy of the government of Vietnam.”

Deporting Vietnamese refugees is the equivalent of sentencing them to an undeserved, long-suffering life under the thumb of a tyrannical government they fled a generation ago.

I understand the pressures that Mr. Trump is facing regarding immigration. Here in Southern California, we are very familiar with what is going on at our southern border.

However, the Vietnamese American community faces fundamentally different circumstances in their country of origin than do most other immigrants. Refugees deported to Vietnam will be treated as traitors for having left the country in the first place. It’s essential to account for this reality.

Currently, the United States is in the midst of a political shouting match. This post-midterm period is causing both parties to analyze what went wrong, what went right, and what can be improved. The left claims we are inconsistent and they seek to create a political wedge against our natural political allies.

The Vietnamese American community has been reliably conservative and pro-American. Not only is there a clear, moral, and principled reason for protecting these refugees, there is also a reason for political concern. There is never a good time to isolate and frighten a dependable percentage of one’s political base. But no time could be worse than now.

This debate is only conjecture until the such a time that the United States and Vietnamese governments sit down to decide what is to happen to these Vietnamese refugees. In the meantime, I join my fellow Americans in urging President Trump to continue to stand up against oppressive communism. Vietnamese refugees should also enjoy Mr. Trump’s leadership given in the First Step Act.

• Michelle Park Steel is an Orange County, California, supervisor.

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