Asian American Advancing Justice (AAAJ), a non-profit legal aid and civil rights organization, filed a federal class action lawsuit yesterday on behalf of Vietnamese refugees challenging their indefinite detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Dozens of Vietnamese refugees have been held in indefinite detention since 2017, many for crimes they committed in their youth.
“ICE ripped my brother away from his house on the morning of his son’s birthday without any warning. Although he made some mistakes in the past, my brother is a changed person,” said Gina Hoang, sister of Ngoc Hoang, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “He works hard to financially support his four kids and would also cook dinner for them every night after he got home from work. Being without their dad for the past four months has been extremely difficult on Ngoc’s children, and we hope he will be able to return home to them soon.”
In a news conference conducted in both Vietnamese and English and held at the offices of Vietnamese Community of Orange County , Christopher Lapinig, a Skadden Fellow at Impact Litigation unit of AAAJ – Los Angeles announced the nationwide class-action lawsuit.
“We represent a class of Vietnamese immigrants who fled their country as refugees in the wake of Vietnam War.” said Lapinig. “Our clients and the class they represent fled Vietnam the decades before the year 1995 seeking peace and freedom on American shores, many with nothing but clothes on their backs.”
He said these refugees — some of whom ran afoul of the U.S. immigration law — cannot be sent back to Vietnam per a long-standing repatriation agreement that makes their return to Vietnam impossible. The class members nevertheless languish in ICE detention with no end in sight to their detention. The lawsuit alleges that this practice is in violation of the U.S. laws and the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Phi Nguyen, the litigation director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta, detailed a personal story of her parents who are refugees from the Vietnam war.
“My parents… made that journey because they were desperate to escape the turmoil and the devastation caused by the Vietnam War. They made that journey because right after the Vietnam War…, my dad was subject to physical labor, starvation, and other things.
“Today, the American government – the one that my Mom acquaints with freedom and justice – is illegally and indefinitely incarcerating Vietnamese refugees who came to the United States before July 12, 1995 and who therefore cannot be removed,” said Phi Nguyen.
He said that starting in 2017, ICE began detaining the refugees who arrived before 1995 beyond the usual 90 days, despite the Repatriation Agreement. The lawsuit demands that refugees detained for over 90 days be immediately released from custody. 8,000 to 10,000 more Vietnamese are at risk for future indefinite detention.
Tung Nguyen, the founder of Asian Pacific Islander Re-Entry Orange County (APIROC), served 17 years in prison for a burglary he committed when he was 16. He is one of those at risk of being rearrested and indefinitely detained.
“I live day to day with uncertainty and fear… I am uncertain because I don’t know what my future is in America. I am fearful because I don’t know when is the day ICE will come and take me away from my family, my wife, and my kids.”
He was released with parole and subsequently ordered removed from the United States.
As he could not be deported due to the repatriation agreement, he was released on an Order of Supervision and since then has dedicated his life to serving the community, “from juvenile justice reform to victim and offender reconciliation to trying to establish support services for the formerly incarcerated and their families in Orange County.”
“I was stupid when I committed my crimes decades ago. That was decades ago. I have since changed my life and am now a contributor to the community. I am not a criminal of the past. I am a member of and serving our community, and we want to bring our people home,” said Tung Nguyen.
Tuan Uong, a senior associate at Reed Smith, LLP., said that “this case is about safeguarding the basic individual rights of folks here, regardless of where they came from or the current political climate.”
“We do not forget that America is a nation of laws, and these laws apply to everyone, including immigrants,” Uong added. “This lawsuit is a reminder of that and we look forward to working with our partners on this lawsuit.”
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus (Advancing Justice-ALC), is also participating in this lawsuit.
Trinh et al v. Homan et al was filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California under case number 8:18-cv-00316.
The filed complaint can be read here.
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