Capitol Alert

Leading Republicans question Trump plan to deport Vietnamese refugees, some in US over 20 years

Two of Republicans’ leading voices on foreign affairs are questioning the Trump administration’s moves to deport thousands of Vietnamese refugees, a policy that would reverberate particularly strongly in California.

California Rep. Ed Royce, the outgoing House Foreign Affairs Chairman, and his successor, Rep. Mike McCaul of Texas, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen on Thursday saying they were “deeply concerned by reports of a new Administration policy to deport certain Vietnamese-Americans who have lived in the United States for longer than 23 years.”

Noting it would be “a departure from prior policy,” they asked the two cabinet officials for more information about who this new policy would apply to and how it would affect diplomatic relations with Vietnam.

News of the change in policy came to light last week, when a spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Hanoi told The Atlantic that the Trump administration is reinterpreting a 2008 agreement between the United States and Vietnam on who is eligible for deportation. Previous administrations believed the agreement forbid deporting Vietnamese refugees who arrived before 1995, many of whom came to the United States during the Vietnam War.

The Trump administration is arguing that the agreement still allows the U.S. government to deport Vietnamese Americans who came to the United States illegally before 1995, or who have committed crimes. It could affect more than 7,000 people.

It’s part of a larger immigration crackdown by President Donald Trump and his White House, which is also targeting Laotian, Lao Hmong and Cambodian refugees from the Vietnam War era.

The new policy “does not appear to take into account any rehabilitation or contributions to their communities in the intervening decades,” the two Republican congressmen write in the Dec. 20 letter, which was obtained by The Bee. “Our nation bears a special responsibility toward those who fought for and with the United States during the Vietnam War, and their family members who faced persecution, death and the brutality of the Communist reeducation camps because of their association with us.”

California has by far the largest Vietnamese-American population in the country, with Orange County, alone, home to more than 180,000 people, according to 2010 Census data. Royce’s Orange County district is just north of the region’s Little Saigon neighborhood. McCaul represents part of Harris County in Texas, which has the fourth-most Vietnamese Americans of any county.

Santa Clara County and Los Angeles County rank second and third. Several other areas of California also have sizable communities. Sacramento is home to roughly 25,000 Vietnamese Americans while San Joaquin County counts nearly 8,000.

Traditionally, Vietnamese Americans have tended to vote Republican, but that dynamic is shifting, as Democrats’ sweep of Orange County congressional seats in November demonstrated.

Royce is retiring at the end of the year but his chosen successor, Republican Young Kim, a Korean-American immigrant, narrowly lost her race to Democrat Gil Cisneros.

California Republicans are alarmed that Trump’s move to deport longtime members of the Vietnamese community will cement their turn away from the GOP. Vietnamese Americans in Southern California, New Orleans and Houston have staged rallies opposing the policy.

Republican consultant and outspoken Trump critic Mike Madrid retweeted The Atlantic story last week, writing, “Cuban & Vietnamese immigrants are among the only voting groups that sided decisively with Republicans as first generation emigrees. As refugees from communist regimes, these two groups have been outliers strongly supporting the GOP. Until now.”

Two Southern California Republicans — Westminster Assemblyman Tyler Diep and Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do — also sent a letter to the president last week warning that deporting one-time refugees “will have a severe and irreversible human impact.”

The letter from Royce and McCaul further ups the volume of those complaints. Royce has been in Congress for 25 years, serving as House Foreign Affairs Chairman since 2013. McCaul is currently chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, but will assume the ranking Republican role on the Foreign Affairs Committee next year.

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Emily Cadei works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where she covers national politics and policy for McClatchy’s California readers. A native of Sacramento, she has spent more than a decade in D.C. reporting on U.S. elections, Congress and foreign affairs for publications including Newsweek, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call.