Activists and advocacy groups expressed devastation over the news, saying it is 'unconscionable' to deport people in the middle of a pandemic.
Activists and immigration advocates are incensed after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported a plane full of Vietnamese immigrants from Texas on Monday in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
The deported immigrants include 33 members of the Vietnamese community in the United States. Among them were Hieu Huynh, a 49-year-old refugee who arrived in 1980 with his family after they fled the aftermath of the Vietnam War, according to advocacy groups Mekong NYC, VietLEAD, and the Southeast Asian Defense Project, which worked on the "Bring Hieu Home" campaign. Tien Pham, a Vietnamese refugee who resettled in San Jose after spending years at a refugee camp, was also deported.
Nancy Dung Nguyen, executive director of VietLEAD confirmed in an email on Tuesday, "Last night, flight #N234AX took off from Fort Worth, Texas—deporting 33 Vietnamese community members including Hieu Huynh, Tien Pham, and 31 other refugees and immigrants. This flight is now en route to Vietnam."
Groups advocating for the Southeast Asian community and immigrants were disheartened and angered by the news.
"We feel absolute devastation and sadness. And we are disgusted by this action by the White House," Nguyen said, placing blame on President Joe Biden.
Quyen Dinh, executive director of Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, slammed the decision.
"It is unconscionable that DHS and ICE continue to deport Southeast Asian Americans and other refugees and immigrant communities during this pandemic. These individuals have already served their time, and like every other American, deserve a second chance at life in the United States with their families," Dinh said in an email.
She added, "Despite the clear intent of the Biden Administration to place a hold on removals, ICE continues to deport immigrants and refugees and has shown itself to be an out-of-control, rogue subagency."
President Joe Biden proposed a 100-day moratorium on deportations upon first taking office, but a federal judge in late February indefinitely banned the administration from enforcing the pause. After the ruling, 15 people were deported to Jamaica and hundreds to Central America, the Associated Press noted.
Biden has also been using a Donald Trump-era policy called Title 42 to turn immigrants away at the border to curb the spread of COVID-19. In the first half of February alone, ICE flew over 900 people back to Haiti, BuzzFeed News reported, citing government data.
Documents obtained by the outlet also showed that Homeland Security officials internally acknowledged that the Haitian immigrants "may face harm" if deported back to their home country.
In a joint letter on Tuesday, obtained by the American Independent Foundation, advocacy groups Mekong NYC, VietLEAD, and the Southeast Asian Defense Project sought to reassure supporters and organizers following the deportations, writing, "We did our best, and our rage will move us to continue fighting to abolish ICE, prisons, the police, and all forms of state violence that harm our communities. We are currently developing next steps, including a fundraiser to support Hieu and the other 32 community members."
Mekong NYC noted that Huynh had been detained in May 2020 and deported by ICE over a 30 year old conviction, for which he had already served time.
Huynh was "isolated from his family, and deported to a country he currently has no ties to," Mekong NYC said.
"Huynh's detention and deportation compounds the cycle of violence, trauma, and separation that he and many other Southeast Asian refugees know all too well. Deportations during the pandemic are also a violent abuse of power that prioritizes xenophobia over public health and community safety," the group explained.
Dinh on Tuesday cited Biden's promised moratorium and the recent spate of brutal attacks against Asian Americans, saying that they necessitated an intervention by the White House.
"In light of the injunction on the deportation moratorium and with a national spotlight on the escalating violence against Asian American communities, the Biden Administration must directly intervene and stop ICE from harming our communities, and Congress must defund ICE and CBP," she said.
At least one member of Congress has also spoken out against the deportations.
On Sunday, Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) sent a letter to Biden, urging "immediate intervention" to ground the plane carrying the 33 Vietnamese immigrants, which took off Monday evening.
He cited reports from immigrant rights organizations indicating that Vietnamese immigrants are in fact protected under a 2008 agreement between Vietnam and the United States, signed by former President George W. Bush and honored by former President Barack Obama, which guarded them against deportation.
He also noted that many of the immigrants who fled the aftermath of the Vietnam War "fought alongside or otherwise supported the U.S. during the war" and said their expulsion would "significantly disrupt immigrant and refugee communities in the U.S."
In an email on Tuesday, the California congressman added that it was "outrageous to be deporting people who came here as refugees decades ago."
Lowenthal is now seeking clarification on the Biden administration's position on the 2008 agreement.
Dinh, for her part, said that the growing national dialogue over racial injustices — sparked by the deaths of several Black and brown Americans at the hands of police, as well as pushback to abuses within the prison system and immigrant detention system — needed to also include offenses against the immigrant community.
"The racial justice conversation must extend to include immigrants and refugees," she said. "True justice is granting everyone a second chance and the opportunity to transform their lives."
Updated to include the names of additional advocacy groups who worked to stop Monday's deportations, as well as correct a reference to Hieu Huynh to use his surname.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.