Robert Huynh is the son of an American serviceman, although he never knew his father. His mother is Vietnamese, and he was conceived during the Vietnam War. In 1984, nine years after the last American troops left the country, 14-year-old Huynh moved to Louisville with his mother, half brother and half sisters under a U.S. government program to bring Amerasians and others to the United States.
Today, at 48, with a son and two young grandsons in Kentucky, he faces the prospect of being sent back to Vietnam, a country he has not visited since he left and where he has no relatives or friends.
Huynh is one of about 8,000 Vietnamese potentially caught up in a tough new immigration policy adopted by the Trump administration, significantly escalating deportation proceedings against immigrants who have green cards but never became U.S. citizens and have violated U.S. law.
Huynh, who helps out these days in his family’s nail salons, has several criminal convictions. In his 20s, he served nearly three years behind bars for dealing in the drug ecstasy; more recently, he served a year’s probation for driving under the influence, and he was given another period of probation for running illegal slot-machine “game rooms” with his girlfriend in Texas, where he now lives.
He acknowledges that he made mistakes but says he accepted his punishments and tried to build a life here. Now he risks losing it all.
“My mother is 83 years old right now, and I want to be here when she passes away,” he said by telephone from Houston. “I don’t have anybody in Vietnam. My life is here in the United States.”
Nearly 1.3 million Vietnamese citizens have immigrated to the United States since the communist takeover of South Vietnam in 1975. Many came in the wave of “boat people” who made headlines in the late 1970s as they fled Vietnam in overcrowded and unsafe vessels.
The new arrivals were given green cards when they reached the United States, but many — Huynh among them — lacked the education, language skills or legal help needed to negotiate the complex bureaucratic process of obtaining citizenship.
Many came as children, attended schools and colleges in the United States, worked, paid taxes and raised families. Decades later, their lives and families could be ripped apart again.
By Simon Denyer for THE WASHINGTON POST
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