“Trump’s immigration crackdown hits Vietnam
Inside the case of one man who feared torture because of his Montagnard roots, but was deported last month.
By DAVID ROGERS 08/14/2017 05:39 AM EDT
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President Donald Trump’s “get tough” approach to immigration is now impacting — of all people — the Montagnard hill tribesmen who fought alongside the Green Berets in the Vietnam War.
The son of one such Montagnard veteran was deported back to Vietnam in July, a stunning move for many in the refugee community because of their history in the war and the continued evidence of political and economic mistreatment of Montagnards in Vietnam.
. . . .
The case captures all the twists and turns in the U.S. immigration system, compounded by pressure from the White House for quick results. No one emerges looking all good or all bad, but the outcome shows a remarkable blindness to history.
Nothing reveals this better, perhaps, than the exchanges between judge and defendant during a brief immigration court proceeding in June 2016, when Chuh was first ordered deported.
At that time, Chuh was being held at an ICE detention facility in Irwin County, Georgia. He had completed a state prison term for a first-time felony conviction in North Carolina related to trafficking in the synthetic drug MDMA, commonly called “ecstasy.” He remained without legal counsel and had to speak back-and forth by video conference with U.S. Immigration Court Judge William A. Cassidy of Atlanta, about 180 miles away.
POLITICO obtained a digital audiotape of the proceeding from the Justice Department under the Freedom of Information Act. The entire hearing ran just 5 minutes, 2 seconds, and the two men, Cassidy and Chuh, might have been ships passing in the night.
Chuh told Cassidy that he feared torture if he were sent back to Vietnam. But following the misguided advice of fellow detainees, he hurt his own cause by rejecting the judge’s offers to give him more time to find an attorney and seek protection.
On the other side, Cassidy, a former prosecutor, did not probe why Chuh feared torture. In fact, the judge showed no sign of knowing he was dealing with a Montagnard defendant and not the typical Vietnamese national.
Time and again, Cassidy incorrectly addressed Chuh as “A. Chuh” — not realizing that the A is Chuh’s single-letter last name and a telltale sign of his Montagnard heritage. The process was so rushed that Cassidy inadvertently told Chuh “Buenos dias” before correcting himself at the end.
Most striking, the word Montagnard is never heard in the entire tape. Its origins are French, a remnant of Vietnam’s colonial past and meaning, roughly, “people of the mountain.”
Over the years, the Montagnard label has been applied broadly to several indigenous ethnic groups concentrated in the Central Highlands and with their own distinct languages and customs. They share a hunger for greater autonomy in Vietnam and have been willing to side with outsiders, like the French and later Americans, to try to get it. At the same time, Vietnam’s dominant ethnic Kinh population has long treated the hill tribes as second-class citizens. Regardless of who has ruled Vietnam, the record is often one of suspicion and mistreatment toward the Montagnards.
The Montagnards’ strategic location in the Highlands, however, has long made them an asset in times of war. And beginning early in the 1960s, the Central Intelligence Agency and Green Berets recruited tribesmen to collect intelligence and disrupt enemy supply lines.
Chuh’s 71-year-old father, Tony Ngiu, assisted in this U.S. effort, but paid dearly later when he was sentenced to nine years in reeducation camps and hard labor by the victorious North. He was able to come to the U.S. in 1998 with much of his family, including Chuh, then a boy of about 13.
Like many Montagnards, he settled in North Carolina, which is also home to military installations used by the Green Berets, more formally known as U.S. Army Special Forces. But because Chuh was 18 by the time his father became a full citizen, he did not derive automatic citizenship himself.
“I am very, very sad,” Ngiu said. “I want them to send my son home so he can take care of his children.”
Read Rogers’s much longer full article at the link.
It’s not surprising that this case arose in the oft-criticized Atlanta Immigration Court where due process is routinely subordinated to achieving high levels of rapid removals. Unfortunately, as Jason Dzubow pointed out in a blog on The Asylumist that I previously featured, “We are all in Atlanta now!”
Additionally, the SPLC has documented that notwithstanding earlier complaints, EOIR has done little or nothing to stop the unprofessional conduct and anti-migrant bias demonstrated by some of the U.S. Immigration Judges at the Stewart, GA Immigration Court.
Indeed, it appears that the Trump-Sessions group actually likes the focus on assembly-line removals without much regard for fairness or due process that they have seen coming out of the Atlanta Court. After all, it produces high numbers of final orders of removal which, according to the latest EOIR press release, has replaced guaranteeing fairness and due process as the objective of the U.S. Immigration Courts. As Jason Dzubow noted in the above-linked blog, the Administration has rewarded those who have learned how due process is denied in Atlanta with key positions at DHS and EOIR.
And, training and continuing legal education for Immigration Judges was one of the earliest casualties of the “Sessions era” at the DOJ. If the message from on high is “move ’em all out asap” — preferably by in absentia hearings without any due process or in hearings conducted in detention with the migrants unrepresented — why would any judge need training in the law, due process, or preparing carefully constructed judicial opinions?
Harken back to the days of the Bush II Administration. After Ashcroft’s “purge of the BIA” and following 9-11, some Immigration Judges and Board Members assumed that it was “open season” on migrants. How many removal orders were being churned out and how fast they were being completed became more important that what was being done (or more properly, what corners were being cut) to produce the final orders.
As the work of the BIA and the Immigration Courts deteriorated and became sloppier and sloppier, and as the incidents of Immigration Judges’ being rude, belligerent, and generally unprofessional to the individuals and private attorneys coming before them mounted, the Article III Federal Courts pushed back. Published opinions began “blistering” the performance of individual Immigration Judges and BIA Members by name, some prominent Federal Judges on both the conservative and liberal sides of the equation began speaking out in the media, and the media and the internet featured almost daily stories of the breakdown of professionalism in the U.S. Immigration Courts. The Courts of Appeals also remanded BIA final orders, many of which summarily affirmed problematic Immigration Court rulings, by the droves, effectively bringing the Bush Administration’s “deportation express” to a grinding halt as the BIA was forced to further remand the cases to the Immigration Courts for “do-overs.”
Finally, it became too much for then Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. Although Gonzalez will hardly go down in history as a notable champion of due process, he finally issued what was basically a “cease and desist order” to the BIA and the Immigration Judges. Unfortunately, rather than admitting the primary role of the DOJ and the Administration in the disaster, and changing some of the DOJ policies and procedures that contributed to the problem, Gonzalez effectively chose to blame the whole debacle on the Immigration Judges, including those who didn’t participate in the “round ’em up and move ’em out” spectacle spawned by Administration policies. Gonzalez ordered some reforms in professionalism, discipline, and training which had some shot term effects in improving due process, and particularly the results for asylum seekers, in Immigration Court.
But, by the present time, EOIR has basically returned to the “numbers over quality and due process” emphasis. The recent EOIR press release touting increased removals (not surprisingly grants of relief to migrants decreased at the same time) in response to the President’s immigration enforcement initiatives clearly shows this changed emphasis.
Also, as Rogers notes in his article, the BIA and some Immigration Judges often apply an “ahistorical” approach under which the lessons of history are routinely ignored. Minor, often cosmetic, changes such as meaningless or ineffective reforms in statutes and constitutions, appointment of ombudsmen, peace treaties, cease fires, and pledges to clean up corruption and human rights abuses (often issued largely to placate Western Governments and NGOs to keep the foreign aid money flowing) are viewed by the BIA and Immigration Judges as making immediate “material improvements” in country conditions in asylum cases, although the lessons of history and common sense say otherwise.
Sadly, the past appears to be prologue in the U.S. Immigration Courts. It’s past time for Congress to create and independent, Article I U.S. Immigration Court.