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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Marguerite Rivera Houze
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration

Remarks on Vietnamese-American Appreciation and Celebration Day
Houston, Texas, July 25, 1999

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Vietnamese-American Appreciation and Celebration Day on the Occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the Signing of the U.S.-Vietnamese Agreement for the Release and Resettlement of Vietnamese Political Prisoners

Mrs. Tho, members of the organizing committee, Mr. Funseth, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I am very pleased to have been invited to address you as part of the celebration commemorating the tenth anniversary of the bilateral agreement between the United States and the Government of Vietnam to establish a special program for the resettlement in the United States of released reeducation center detainees and their close family members. I am also particularly pleased to be included in this celebration because it honors the efforts of Robert Funseth, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. It was his dedication, commitment, and perseverance that ensured the success of the negotiations with the Vietnamese government that established the admissions program for released reeducation detainees.

As we join together to commemorate this occasion, I would like to briefly review the history of the program for released detainees. The successful conclusion of the bilateral agreement in Hanoi on July 30, 1989 was the culmination of an intensive seven-year U.S. diplomatic effort to obtain the release of these persons and Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) agreement to permit their emigration to the United States. At the conclusion of the negotiations in July 1989, Mr. Funseth presented to the Vietnamese delegation a list of 3,500 former reeducation center detainees and their family members who were eligible for processing for U.S. resettlement. In October 1989, interviews of the released detainees began in Ho Chi Minh City and in January 1990 the first group of former detainees approved for admission arrived in the United States.

As you are aware, initially the U.S. focused on those reeducation detainees who had family members in the U.S. or who had been detained more than 5 years in reeducation camps, although we later began processing former detainees with three or more years in reeducation.

On September 30,1994, nearly 14 years after the establishment of the in-country admissions program for Vietnam under the auspices of the Orderly Departure Program (ODP), registration for ODP's refugee admissions component was completed. Prior to establishing the ODP registration deadline, the U.S. Government made a concerted effort to ensure that information about the registration deadline was disseminated in both Vietnam and the United States. Extraordinary efforts have been made to ensure that people had sufficient time to contact ODP and request consideration for resettlement. As of today, we have nearly completed the processing of all registered detainee applicants, and their adult children, eligible to be processed under the McCain amendment.

Since its inception, nearly 200,000 former detainees and their accompanying family members have entered the U.S.-- ore than double the number that we estimated when the program began in 1989. As we complete the refugee programs based on association with pre-1975 U.S. Government policies and programs in Vietnam, in September we will bring to closure ODP operations in Thailand. In preparation for this event, just this past week, responsibility for the processing of immigrant visa cases was assumed by the consular section at the new U.S.Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City. As I am sure you are well aware, Vietnam is now the 5th largest immigration country to the United States and we anticipate that by 2001 it will be the 4th largest. In 1998, some 25,000 immigrant visa interviews were conducted in Vietnam, and this year we expect the number to reach nearly 30,000.

Of course, the forerunner to this sizeable immigration program was the enormous refugee processing programs in first asylum countries as well as the past 25 of ODP. More than 500,000 Vietnamese refugees and immigrants have been admitted to the U.S. under ODP. We have nearly completed the processing of all registered cases, including the reeducation detainee cases. However, please be assured that we have no intention of foregoing the processing of any eligible cases either under ODP or ROVR (Resettlement Opportunity for Vietnamese Returnees) programs. Indeed, we believe we will be able to complete the interviewing of nearly all of these cases before the end of September. Once ODP operations close in Bangkok, any residual ODP or ROVR cases will be processed by the refugee resettlement unit (RRU) that we established at the consulate in Ho Chi Minh City this past January. This unit will be headed by a U.S. Government employee and will be staffed by experienced expatriate caseworkers to help refugee applicants prepare for their interviews. We also will ensure that expatriate interpreters are provided for the caseworkers and INS adjudicators. Initially, the RRU office was established to process Amerasian, following-to-join applications "visas 92 and 93", and any residual ODP cases. In addition to any of these cases, the office will process the remaining previously-registered cases of former U.S. Government employees whose employment history can be verified. We expect to present these cases to INS officers for interview this fall.

Though we are closing out ODP operations, we, of course, must not fail to recognize that there are some people in Vietnam who continue to experience persecution. In the future, we intend to focus our in-country program in Vietnam on the protection needs of individuals who are currently experiencing persecution. Our goal is to create a rescue program that will be responsive to the protection needs of such individuals.

We all can be especially proud of our mutual accomplishments over the past 25 years as they concern Vietnamese refugees. Working together we have resettled in the United States, both as refugees and immigrants, some 900,000 Vietnamese: 500,000 through the ODP and another 400,000 from the former first asylum countries in the region. It has been a remarkable partnership, one that has saved lives and provided hope. In the case of the reeducation detainees we formed a joint public/private task force to help in the resettlement of these individuals. The Vietnamese community in the U.S.--largely under the leadership of its own associations and the voluntary resettlement agencies--stepped forward to welcome these long-suffering people, extending to them in a spirit of friendship and good neighborliness the kind of assistance and personal support that no government program could alone provide. With your help, these new Americans, many of whom came with nothing, created new lives and made America a better place through their presence.

Though I am sure you know better than I about the successful new lives that former detainees have built after arriving in the U.S., I would like to share the stories of just two of the families that resettled in the Houston area.

  • Mr. Lam van Dieu, his wife and three children arrived in 1995. He quickly found a job working as a cook and his wife was employed at an assembly plant. Their three children also found jobs quickly and attended college in the evening. Just 2 years later in 1997 the family had saved enough money to purchase their own home. Currently the family is in the process of purchasing their own dry cleaning business.

  • Mr. Ta Chi Thanh and his family arrived in Houston in 1994. Mr. Ta immediately enrolled in vocational school classes and is now a licensed electrician. His wife attended beauty school and now owns a manicure business; 3 years after arriving in the U.S., the Ta's purchased a home. These are only two examples of what many of the former detainees resettled in the U.S. have accomplished. Their success is due in large part to the support and guidance that you and other members of the Vietnamese-American community provided to the detainees after their arrival in the U.S.
As we move into the 21st century, we must continue the welcoming tradition that has been extended to the nearly 1 million Vietnamese resettled in the United States. I ask you to continue to work with us to extend a helping hand to new refugee populations around the world in need of our help. Their resettlement in the United States requires the same dedication and caring that you have provided to your former countrymen. We look forward to continuing our partnership, forged so many years ago, and to working with you to ensure that all refugees resettled in the United States, where ever they may be from, continue to receive a warm welcome to this great country of ours.

Thank you.

[end of document]

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