SINGAPORE - Washington has started deportation proceedings against
thousands of Vietnamese living illegally in the United States under a
pact between the two countries, a top U.S. immigration official said
Julie Myers, director of U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement, eased the fears of some Vietnamese groups about
the plan, saying those who have lived in the U.S. for more than 13
years would not be deported.
The repatriation pact applies to Vietnamese who entered the U.S. illegally after the former foes normalized relations in 1995. Some critics had expressed concern the agreement could include others who entered the U.S. in the 70s and 80s.
"We're just going to begin the process of returning individuals back to Vietnam," Myers said in an interview with The Associated Press during a visit to Singapore. "The Vietnamese government has been very cooperative and helpful in this process as we've identified particular cases to move forward on."
The agreement was completed in late January but took 60 days to go into effect, Myers said.
The deal took 10 years to complete because Vietnam had previously been reluctant to accept citizens back and community leaders in the U.S. said many immigrants have been living with deportation orders for years, even decades.
"Every country in the world has a responsibility by treaty to take back their nationals," Myers said. "This agreement simply says that Vietnam will follow what every country in the world has to do with respect to taking back their nationals."
More than 1.5 million Vietnamese _ the largest population outside Vietnam _ live in the U.S. Many fled their native country in boats after the Vietnam War ended in 1975 and northern communist forces took control of the former South Vietnam, which the U.S. had backed.
Myers was attending an ICE-sponsored conference in the city-state on forced child labor, child sex tourism and human trafficking.