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Were there any U.S. soldiers who claimed their children that they had with Vietnamese women in the Vietnam War? What happened to the ones that were left behind?
Q. Were there any U.S. soldiers who claimed their children that they had with Vietnamese women in the Vietnam War? What happened to the ones that were left behind?A. Multiple articles regarding Amerasians treatment after the war, what led to the American Homecoming Act of 1987, and a look back 25 years later.40 years after the Vietnam war ended, the children of U.S. soldiers are looking for their dads.Legacies of warForty years after the fall of Saigon, soldiers’ children are still left behindPhotos by Linda DavidsonStories by Annie Gowen, Published: April 17, 2015Vo Huu Nhan was in his vegetable boat in the floating markets of the Mekong Delta when his phone rang. The caller from the United States had stunning news — a DNA database had linked him with a Vietnam vet believed to be his father.Nhan, 46, had known his father was an American soldier named Bob, but little else.“I was crying,” Nhan recalled recently. “I had lost my father for 40 years, and now I finally had gotten together with him.”But the journey toward their reconciliation has not been easy. News of the positive DNA test set in motion a chain of events involving two families 8,700 miles apart that is still unfolding and has been complicated by the illness of the veteran, Robert Thedford Jr., a retired deputy sheriff in Texas.When the last U.S. military personnel fled Saigon on April 29 and 30, 1975, they left behind a country scarred by war, a people uncertain about their future and thousands of their own children. These children — some half-black, some half-white — came from liaisons with bar girls, “hooch” maids, laundry workers and the laborers who filled sandbags that protected American bases.They are approaching middle age with stories as complicated as the two countries that gave them life. Growing up with the face of the enemy, they were spat on, ridiculed, beaten. They were abandoned, given away to relatives or sold as cheap labor. The families that kept them often had to hide them or shear off their telltale blond or curly locks. Some were sent to reeducation or work camps, or ended up homeless and living on the streets.They were called “bui doi,” which means “the dust of life.”Forty years later, hundreds remain in Vietnam, too poor or without proof to qualify for the program created by the Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987 that resettles the children of American soldiers in the United States.Now, an Amerasian group has launched a last-chance effort to reunite fathers and children with a new DNA database on a family heritage Web site. Those left behind have scant information about their GI dads — papers and photographs were burned as the Communist regime took hold, and memories faded. So positive DNA tests are their only hope.New season, fresh hopesMotorcycles and scooters crowd the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (Photo by Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)Ho Chi Minh City in spring. The apricot flower trees, symbol of the spring festival of Tet, are in bloom. A never-ending parade of motorbikes swirls around traffic circles. High-end stores such as Gucci sparkle near chain restaurants such as KFC. There’s scant evidence of the U.S. military presence, save for a rusting helicopter in the yard of a museum devoted to communist glory.But family secrets are buried like land mines.Trista Goldberg, 44, is a Pilates instructor from New Jersey, proud to call herself Amerasian, and founder of a group called Operation Reunite. She was adopted by a U.S. family in 1974 and found her birth mother in 2001. Two springs ago, she arrived at a house in Ho Chi Minh City where 80 people had gathered to provide DNA samples. She hopes to use potential matches to help make the case for about 400 whose applications for U.S. visas are pending further verification.“With a twist of fate, I could have been one of the ones who stayed back,” she said.Operation Reunite Returns Amerasians to VietnamMore than 3,000 Vietnamese orphans were evacuated from Vietnam in the chaotic final days of war. The lives of the rest changed with the Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987, which allowed 21,000 Amerasians and more than 55,000 family members to settle in the United States.The “dust of life” suddenly became “gold children.” Rich Vietnamese paid to buy Amerasians, only to abandon them once they arrived in the United States, according to the former U.S. Marine and child psychiatrist Robert S. McKelvey, who wrote “The Dust of Life: America’s Children Abandoned in Vietnam.”In part because of such fraud, the United States tightened its screening procedures, and the number of immigrant visas issued dropped dramatically. Only 13 were issued last year.Nhan had traveled from his home in An Giang for Goldberg’s DNA collection session. He is a quiet man, a father of five with a third-grade education, a wide smile and ears that stick out slightly.His mother had told him he was the son of a soldier when he was about 10.“Why do kids tease me all the time? I get so upset, sometimes I want to hit them, ” Nhan recalled saying. “She paused for a while and told me I was a mixed kid. She looked sad, but my grandparents said they loved me the same. It didn’t matter.”After Nhan and the others gave DNA samples, they settled back to see whether this new technology would give them a chance at the old American dream.Making contactTop: Vo Huu Nhan, an Amerasian born to a Vietnamese mother and an American G.I. (Photo by Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)Bottom: Old photos of Bob Thedford as an officer in the Army during the late '60s. (Photo courtesy Vo Huu Nhan)In the fall, Bob Thedford’s wife, Louise, a genealogy buff, logged on to her account with Family Tree DNA, which is cooperating with Goldberg’s effort, and saw a surprising result. It was new information for her husband, a father-son link. The son was Nhan.Louise had long suspected that her husband might have had a child from his days as a military police officer in Vietnam in the late 1960s. She had found a picture of a Vietnamese woman tucked inside his wallet shortly after they wed.The news was more of a shock to their daughter, Amanda Hazel, 35, a paralegal from Fort Worth.“To be honest, the first thing I thought was, ‘Are you sure this isn’t a scam?’ ” Hazel recalled.But pictures of Nhan arrived a short time later. He was the image of his late grandfather, Robert Thedford Sr., a Navy veteran who had fought in World War II. “You look so much like your grandfather PawPaw Bob,” Bob told his son.Thedford, a strapping Tarrant County deputy sheriff known as “Red” for his auburn hair, had met Nhan’s mother while he was at Qui Nhon Air Base. His memories of her are hazy, and his family said he rarely spoke of the war.“He would never sit down and lament on it,” his stepson, John Gaines, recalled. “When I asked him, ‘Did you ever shoot someone?’ he said, ‘Yes, but you have to understand there are reasons behind that, and it’s part of war. I’m not going to sit here and explain to you what that’s like.’”As Thedford was teaching Hazel to swim and ride a bike in suburban Texas, Nhan was growing up on his grandparents’ pig farm, swimming in the river and getting caught stealing mangoes. The disparity in their lives was not lost on Thedford.“He just kept saying, ‘I didn’t know,’ ” Gaines said. “ ‘I didn’t know how to be there, or I would have been there. All I can tell you is I was surprised, and I hate finding out 45 years later.’ ”Tentative contacts followed, although Nhan speaks no English and does not have a computer. E-mails were exchanged through intermediaries, packages followed. Nhan sent sandals he had made and conical paddy hats; the Thedfords sent Nhan a $50 bill and Texas Rangers gear. “Is there anything you need?” Robert Thedford kept asking.Then there was the emotional first Skype call, when both men cried seeing each other for the first time.“He looked like me,” Nhan said after. “I felt like I connected with him right away.”But last August, Thedford, 67, who had previously been treated for skin cancer, fell ill again. The cancer had spread, and he had a series of operations, the most recent on April 3. As the Texas family rallied to care for him, Vietnam receded.‘My son in Vietnam’Dang Thi Kim Ngan, right, interprets for Vo Huu Nhan, center, as he Skypes with his half-sister Amanda Hazel. (Photo by Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)Recently, Nhan Skyped with Hazel from a dusty computer in the back of a friend’s sewing supply shop in Ho Chi Minh City. She spoke from her living room, her dogs running about.Nhan asked how his father was doing.“He’s doing good. He can sit up in a chair now. They’re working with him,” Hazel said. “I feel bad not connecting sooner, but Mom and Dad think about you and talk about you all the time.” Thedford had been showing pictures of Nhan to the nurses in the hospital and saying, “This is my son in Vietnam.”Nhan submitted the results of his DNA match to the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City in December 2013, asking for a reconsideration. But he has not heard back. A State Department spokesman said that privacy laws prevent discussion of any case.Hazel says that the family is all for helping Nhan immigrate to the United States, even as she knows that the transition would be difficult. “It’s going to totally throw him for a loop,” she said.But for now, theirs is a story without an end, the way the war itself is a wound that never completely healed. The story keeps spiraling forward, like the DNA double helix that brought them together.Nga Ly Hien Nguyen in Vietnam and Magda Jean-Louis and Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.Amerasians in Saigon 1985 & 1987 including Kim NguyenJim LauriePublished on Feb 1, 2016Amerasian children were a fixture on the streets of Saigon from 1980 to 1987. Most had a very hard time; no parents and they were regarded as outcasts in society. Finally by 1988-1990, the US and Vietnamese governments agreed to allow nearly all to settle in the United States. Under the American Homecoming Act of 1988, about 23,000 Amerasians and 67,000 of their relatives entered the United States. These are excerpts of video shot in 1985 and 1987.Vietnam: A Tale of 'Miss Saigon,' Two Kims, Children of Dust and More Than 30 Years (huffingtonpost.com)Vietnam Legacy: Finding G.I. Fathers, and Children Left Behind (2013)SALTILLO, Miss. — Soon after he departed Vietnam in 1970, Specialist James Copeland received a letter from his Vietnamese girlfriend. She was pregnant, she wrote, and he was the father.He re-enlisted, hoping to be sent back. But the Army was drawing down and kept him stateside. By the time Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975, he had lost touch with the woman. He got a job at a plastics factory in northern Mississippi and raised a family. But a hard question lingered: did she really have his child?“A lot of things we did in Vietnam I could put out of my mind,” said Mr. Copeland, 67. “But I couldn’t put that out.”In 2011, Mr. Copeland decided to find the answer, acknowledging what many other veterans have denied, kept secret or tried to forget: that they left children behind in Vietnam.Their stories are a forgotten legacy of a distant war. Yet for many veterans and their half-Vietnamese children, the need to find one another has become more urgent than ever. The veterans are hitting their mid-60s and early 70s, many of them retired or infirm and longing to salve the scars of an old war. And for many of the offspring, who have overcome at least some of the hurdles of immigration, the hunger to know their American roots has only grown stronger.“I need to know where I come from,” said Trinh Tran, 46, a real estate agent in Houston who has searched in vain for her G.I. father. “I always feel that without him, I don’t exist.”By some estimates, tens of thousands of American servicemen fathered children with Vietnamese women during that long war. Some of the children were a result of long-term relationships that would be unimaginable to the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where interaction with local people was minimal. Others were born of one-night stands. But few of the fathers ever met their offspring, and fewer still brought them home to America.After the war, those children — known as Amerasians — endured harsh discrimination and abject poverty in Vietnam, viewed as ugly reminders of an invading army. Shamed by reports of their horrible living conditions, Congress enacted legislation in 1987 giving Amerasians special immigration status. Since then, more than 21,000, accompanied by more than 55,000 relatives, have moved to the United States under the program, and several thousand more have come under other immigration policies.Many arrived expecting to be reunited with their American fathers. But the United States government did not help in that cause, and only a tiny fraction — perhaps fewer than 5 percent — ever found them.So many Amerasians continue to search, typically working with little more than badly translated names, half-forgotten memories and faded photographs.And some veterans are doing the same, driven by heartache, or guilt, to find sons and daughters. “It’s like the mother who gives up their kid for adoption,” said George Pettitt of Wales Center, N.Y. “You just never stop thinking about it.”Mr. Pettitt, 63, enlisted in the Army after dropping out of high school and was in Vietnam by age 19. During his year there, he developed a relationship with a Vietnamese woman who did laundry for soldiers. Soon she was pregnant.“I was taking comfort in having a girlfriend like that,” he said. “I never meant for her to get pregnant.”He returned home to western New York, lost touch with the woman, got a job driving trucks and raised a family. But when he retired for health reasons in 2000, he found himself haunted by memories of the child he left behind — a boy, he believes. He paid a man to look in Vietnam, but the trail went cold. This year, a woman in Virginia called to say she thought her husband might be his son. But a DNA test was negative.“I was hoping this was it,” he said. “I just feel so guilty about all this.”Yet against the odds and despite the many years, children and fathers sometimes find each other.Cuong Luu was born in Vietnam, the child of an American soldier who met his mother when she cleaned his apartment. The soldier left Vietnam before Mr. Luu was born, and his mother lost contact with him. Soon after, she married an American who worked for the military. He moved the family to the Virgin Islands when Mr. Luu was a toddler.Mr. Luu inherited many of his father’s features, and in the black neighborhood of St. Thomas where he grew up, he was taunted for being white. His mother also shunned him, he said, perhaps ashamed of the hard memories he evoked.At the age of 9, he was in a home for delinquent boys. By 17, he was living on the street, selling marijuana and smoking crack. At 20, he was in prison for robbing a man at gunpoint. When he got out, his half sister took him to Baltimore, where he resumed selling drugs.PhotoJames Copeland and Tiffany Nguyen, his daughter, who was born after he left Vietnam. Credit Lance Murphey for The New York TimesBut then he had a daughter with a girlfriend, and something inside him changed. “I worried I would just go to jail and never see her,” he said of his daughter, Cara, who is 4.Long plagued by questions about his identity, he decided he needed to find his biological father to set his life straight. “I wanted to feel more whole,” said Mr. Luu, 41. “I just wanted to see him with my own two eyes.”The quest became an obsession. Mr. Luu spent every night on his computer, hunting unsuccessfully until he realized he had spelled the name wrong: it was Jack Magee, not McGee.He discovered references to a Jack Magee on a veterans’ Web site and, through Facebook, tracked down a man who had served in the same unit. “What do you want from Jack Magee?” the man asked. “I just want a father,” Mr. Luu replied. “Your dad wants to talk to you,” the man wrote back not long after.Mr. Luu had his DNA tested, and it was a match. In November, Mr. Magee, a retired teacher from Southern California, visited Mr. Luu on his birthday. An awkward relationship, full of possibility but not untouched by resentment and wariness, was born.Mr. Magee now calls his son weekly, checking to make sure he is still working in his job cleaning hospital rooms in Baltimore. He also shipped a used Toyota Corolla from California to Mr. Luu, who had been commuting by bus.“I was stunned he was out there,” Mr. Magee, 75, said in an interview.Now that he has found his father, Mr. Luu said, he feels stronger. But the discovery, he has realized, has not solved his problems. What can a former felon do to make a better living? Go to college? Start a business? Drug dealing remains a powerful temptation.“I just wish I had met him before,” Mr. Luu said. “He could have taught me things.” " Recover the past" , Vietnam vets last battle to find his amerasian childBrian Hjort, a Danish man who has helped Mr. Luu and other Vietnamese track down their fathers, says Amerasians often have unrealistically high expectations for reunions with fathers, hoping they will heal deep emotional wounds. But the veterans they meet are often infirm or struggling economically. Sometimes the relationships are emotionally unfulfilling.“I try to tell them: I can’t guarantee love,” Mr. Hjort said. “I can only try to find your father.”Mr. Hjort, 42, is among a small coterie of self-trained experts who have helped Amerasians track down fathers, mostly pro bono. An industrial painter from Copenhagen, he first met Amerasians while traveling through Vietnam and the Philippines two decades ago and was struck by their desperate poverty.One asked him to find a friend’s father, and to his amazement he tracked the man down even though he had no knowledge of military records. News of Mr. Hjort’s success traveled rapidly through Amerasian circles, and he was soon besieged with pleas for help. Moved by the Amerasians’ suffering, he took on more cases, charging only the cost of his trips to Vietnam. He created a Web site, fatherfounded.org, that brought more requests than he could handle.Working in his spare time, he has found scores of fathers, he estimates. Some had died, and many others hung up on him. A few have threatened to sue him. But perhaps two dozen have accepted their children. And in recent years, veterans, too, have begun asking for help. James Copeland was one.In 2011, Mr. Copeland, by then retired, began reading about Amerasians’ miserable lives in Vietnam. Appalled, he decided to search for his own child.He found Mr. Hjort and sent him money to visit Vietnam. Armed with a few names and a crude map, Mr. Hjort found the village where Mr. Copeland had been based and tracked down the brother of an Amerasian woman who was living in America and who Mr. Hjort believed was Mr. Copeland’s daughter.Mr. Hjort sent a photograph of the woman and her mother to Mr. Copeland, and his heart jumped: he instantly recognized the mother as his old girlfriend. His hands were shaking with excitement as he dialed the daughter’s number and asked: “Is this Tiffany Nguyen?”In the coming days, he visited her, her mother and her three brothers in Reading, Pa., where she runs a nail salon at the Walmart. Ms. Nguyen and her three children spent Thanksgiving 2011 with him in Mississippi. For a time, they talked nightly, and she told him about how her mother had protected her from abuse in Vietnam, about their struggles to adapt to the United States, about how she had studied older men at the Walmart, wondering if one of them was her father.“There were a lot of years to cover,” Mr. Copeland said. “I can sleep a lot better now.”But the reunion has also brought him unexpected heartache. His wife became furious when she discovered that he had a Vietnamese daughter, and she demanded that he not visit her. He refused: Ms. Nguyen is his only biological child. After 37 years of marriage, he and his wife are separated and considering divorce, he said. His wife did not respond to efforts to reach her for comment.Mr. Copeland now helps Mr. Hjort contact veterans they believe are fathers of Amerasians. In his patient drawl, Mr. Copeland calmly tells them his story and urges them to confront the possibility that they, like him, have Vietnamese children.But if they dodge his calls or hang up, he continues to leave messages — with children, with spouses, on answering machines. They need to know, he said.“Some people, they just want to move on and forget it,” he said. “I don’t see how they can do it. But there’s a lot of them that I’m sure that’s the case. They just want to forget.”Father searching for amerasian child 2012-13, 12 casesExploring Stories Behind the Amerasian Experience After the Vietnam War | PBS EducationSEPTEMBER 27, 2017Before beginning this project, I did not know very much about the Vietnam War. Events such as the Tet Offensive and Operation Babylift were events I had heard about, but my knowledge of the events was vague. Since my parents lived through the war as children and came to America as refugees, I have always wanted to learn more about the people and history behind the war. It was important to me to discover what my parents experienced.Vietnamese Amerasians were merely children during the post Vietnam War era. Their American servicemen fathers left Vietnam. Their Vietnamese mothers would often abandon them or send them to orphanages. They were discriminated against and abused due to their appearance. This treatment is only some of what they had to go through when while still living in Vietnam.A Second Chance in the U.S.Fortunately, Robert J. Mrazek, a U.S. Congressman, flew to Vietnam after hearing about an Amerasian boy, named Le Van Minh, who needed medical help.. After seeing the horrid living conditions the Amerasian children endured and how they wanted to “go to the land of [their] father,” Mrazek decided to find a solution. He would eventually come to author the Amerasian Homecoming Act. As a result, the Vietnamese Amerasians, along with their families, were allowed a second chance at life and immigrated to the U.S.Even though I am of Vietnamese descent, I initially did not have any knowledge of Vietnamese Amerasians and their incredible stories. After intensive research and speaking to my parents, who interacted with Amerasians while they were still living in Vietnam, I realized that they had suffered way too much to not be mentioned in a history textbook. Amerasians also had a great impact on both the Vietnamese and American people. Almost 100,000 people immigrated from Vietnam to the U.S. and they are now living in better conditions, becoming productive and contributing members of society.A School Project Inspires a Deeper DiveAlthough creating a National History Day project at my school is part of a class assignment for juniors, I created a project as an extracurricular activity when I was a sophomore. The History Day program provides students with the opportunity to dive into a topic and dig deeper than a student would during an average history course.To begin my project, I spent numerous hours researching. I gathered background information on Vietnamese Amerasians and the impact of the Amerasian Homecoming Act. I visited the Watson Library at the University of Kansas, where I found numerous newspaper articles and books from their databases and library. I also researched in other libraries. I contacted two Vietnamese Amerasians that came to America through Operation Babylift and the Amerasian Homecoming Act. Then, I had to write my script, a 500 word process paper with an annotated bibliography, and create my documentary.A Homecoming Act DocumentaryI thought that the topic of U.S. Congressman Robert Mrazek’s stand for Amerasians could be expressed most clearly through a documentary. I used iMovie to create my project and found video clips, images, and music that complemented the information provided. Through this documentary, viewers are enlightened about the agony Amerasians went through and the positive results from Mrazek’s Amerasian Homecoming Act.After working on this project, my determination to learn more about the Vietnam War grew stronger. Meeting Amerasians and hearing their stories made me want to continue to deepen my understanding about their struggles. Today, since most Americans do not know about the Vietnam War, Amerasians and the impacts of the Amerasian Homecoming Act, I feel like it is important topic for young people to examine.Kim Vu is a junior in Seaman High School in Topeka, Kansas. She is currently involved in band, Math Club, Key Club, SHARP Committee, Scholar’s Bowl, Student Council, Writing Center, and Track and Field inside of school. Outside of school, she is involved in the youth folk choir and volunteer at my church and at food banks. Kim won National History's Day Vietnam War Era Prize with this documentary.KIM VU High School StudentAmerasian PhotosThe American Homecoming Act or Amerasian Homecoming Act, was an Act of Congress giving preferential immigration status to children in Vietnamborn of U.S. fathers. The American Homecoming Act was written in 1987, passed in 1988, and implemented in 1989.The act increased Vietnamese Amerasian immigration to the U.S. because it allowed applicants to establish mixed race identity by appearance alone. Additionally, the American Homecoming Act allowed the Amerasian children and their immediate relatives to receive refugee benefitsAbout 23,000 Amerasians and 67,000 of their relatives entered the United States under this act.While the American Homecoming Act was the most successful program in moving Vietnamese Amerasian children to the United States, the act was not the first attempt by the U.S. government. Additionally the act experienced flaws and controversies over the refugees it did and did not include since the act only allowed Vietnamese Amerasian children.BackgroundIn April 1975, the U.S.-backed government of South Vietnam fell to North Vietnamese forces. Refugees from Vietnam started to arrive in the United States under U.S. government programs. In 1982, the U.S. Congress passed the Amerasian Immigration Act (PL 97-359). The law prioritized U.S. immigration to children fathered by U.S. citizens including from Korea, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. However, the law did not provide immigration to mothers or half-siblings, only to Amerasian children. Amerasians would generally have to coordinate with their American fathers in order to obtain a visa. This provided a challenge for many since some fathers did not know they had children or the fathers may not be claiming the children. If the Amerasian children did not have documentation from the American father, then they could be examined for “American” physical features by a group of doctors. Additionally, since the U.S. and Vietnam’s governments did not have diplomatic relations, the law could not be applied to Vietnamese Amerasian children. Essentially the Amerasian Immigration Act did little for Amerasian children and even less for Vietnamese Amerasian children.As a way to address Vietnamese Amerasian children, the U.S. government permitted another route for Vietnamese-born children of American soldiers to the United States. The children would be classified as immigrants, but would also be eligible to receive refugee benefits. The U.S. and Vietnam governments established the Orderly Departure Program (ODP). The program is housed in the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The ODP created a system where South Vietnamese soldiers and others connected to the U.S. war effort could emigrate from Vietnam to the United States. Initially the Amerasian children had to have documentation from their American fathers to be issued a visa, however the program eventually expanded to individuals that did not have firm documentation. The Orderly Departure Program moved around 6,000 Amerasians and 11,000 relatives to the United States.EnactmentOn August 6, 1987, Rep. Robert J. Mrazek [D-NY-3] introduced the Amerasian Homecoming Bill (H.R. 3171). The bill was cosponsored by 204 U.S. representatives (154 Democrats, 49 Republicans, and 1 Independent). In 1988, the U.S. Congress passed the Amerasian Homecoming Act (PL 100-200). The law took effect on March 21, 1988 and allowed Vietnamese Amerasians born January 1, 1962 through January 1, 1976 to apply for immigrant visas until March 21, 1990. Additionally the legislation removed immigration quotas and reduced legal barriers for Vietnamese Amerasians’ immigration. As a result of the act around 20,000 Amerasian children left Vietnam. Prior to the Amerasian Homecoming Act, many Amerasian children faced prejudice in Vietnam sometimes referred to as bui doi (“the dust of life” or “trash”). However, after the act many of these children would be called “golden children” since not only could the Amerasian children move to the United States, but so could their families. The act allowed the spouse, child, mother, or the next of kin of the Amerasian child to emigrate. The act was significant, because it allowed applicants to establish mixed race identity by appearance alone.Immigration processThe American Homecoming Act operated through the Orderly Departure Program in the respective U.S. embassies. U.S. Embassy officials would conduct interviews for Amerasians children and their families. The interviews were intended to prove whether or not the child’s father was a U.S. military personnel. Under the American Homecoming Act, Vietnamese Amerasian children did not have to have documentation from their American fathers; however, if they did their case would be processed quicker. The approval rating for Amerasian applicants was approximately 95 percent. The approved applicants and their families would go through a medical exam. The medical exam was less extensive than other immigration medical exams. If they passed, the U.S. would notify Vietnamese authorities and would process them for departure. The Amerasians would then be sent to the Philippines for a 6-month English language (ESL) and cultural orientation (CO) program. Once the Amerasians arrived in the United States they would be resettled by private voluntary agencies contracted with the U.S. State Department. Some Amerasians gave accounts that some “fake families” approached them as a way to immigrate to the United States. The U.S. Attorney General in conversation with the U.S. Secretary of State submitted program reports to the U.S. Congress every three years.ControversiesWhile the American Homecoming Act was the most successful measure by the United States to encourage Amerasian immigration, the act faced controversies. A primary issue was the act only applied to Amerasian children born in Vietnam. The American Homecoming Act excluded Korea, the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. While Amerasian children from outside Vietnam could immigrate to the United States, they could do so only if their fathers claimed them. Most fathers did not recognize their children, especially if they were born to sex workers. In 1993, a class action lawsuit was filed in the International Court of Complaints to establish Filipino Amerasian children’s rights to assistance. The court ruled against the children, stating they were the products of sexual services provided to U.S. service personnel. Since prostitution is illegal, there could be no legal claim for the Filipino Amerasian children. Amerasian advocacy groups are actively attempting to gain recognition for Amerasian children through legal and legislative measures.There were other concerns facing the American Homecoming Act by the Vietnamese immigrants. Some accounts include a Vietnamese woman who attempted to claim American citizenship for her Amerasian son, but the father denied the relationship and responsibility by calling her a prostitute. Since sex workers were largely excluded, many children were unable to participate in the program. In the 1970s, the U.S. cut refugee cash assistance and medical aid to only eight months. Many Amerasian children account of their struggles in public school and very few attended higher education.Amerasian children who stayed in their respective countries found difficulties. Many of the children faced prejudice since their fair skin or very dark skin, blue eyes, or curly black hair would quickly identify them as Amerasian. Additionally the children faced judgment from the new socialist Vietnamese officials and other neighbors since their features positioned them as reminders of the “old enemy.”Amerasian Homecoming Act – 25 Years LaterThe Amerasian Homecoming Act, which passed into law in December 1987 and went into effect a few months later, began with a photojournalist, a homeless boy in Vietnam, and four high school students in Long Island, New York. Twenty five years later, almost 100,000 people have immigrated from Vietnam to the U.S. as a result of the AHA.First, a bit of background. One of the great tragedies of the Vietnam War is the story of the Amerasians–children of U.S. servicemen and Vietnamese women. There are tens of thousands of such children. In Vietnam, they were known as “children of the dust” because they were considered as insignificant as specks of dust, and many (if not most) suffered discrimination, abuse, poverty, and homelessness. Although the fathers of these children were United States citizens, the children did not qualify to immigrate to the U.S. The situation was complicated by the absence of diplomatic relations between the government of the United States and the government of Vietnam. Ten years after the war, the situation for the Amerasians seemed hopeless. A 2009 article from Smithsonian Magazine describes what happened next:In October 1985, Newsday photographer Audrey Tiernan, age 30, on assignment in Ho Chi Minh City, felt a tug on her pant leg. “I thought it was a dog or a cat,” she recalled. “I looked down and there was [Le Van] Minh. It broke my heart.” Minh, with long lashes, hazel eyes, a few freckles and a handsome Caucasian face, moved like a crab on all four limbs, likely the result of polio. Minh’s mother had thrown him out of the house at the age of 10, and at the end of each day his friend, Thi, would carry the stricken boy on his back to an alleyway where they slept. On that day in 1985, Minh looked up at Tiernan with a hint of a wistful smile and held out a flower he had fashioned from the aluminum wrapper in a pack of cigarettes. The photograph Tiernan snapped of him was printed in newspapers around the world. The next year, four students from Huntington High School in Long Island saw the picture and decided to do something. They collected 27,000 signatures on a petition to bring Minh to the United States for medical attention.They asked Tiernan and their congressman, Robert Mrazek, for help.Mrazek began making phone calls and writing letters. Several months later, in May 1987, he flew to Ho Chi Minh City. Mrazek had found a senior Vietnamese official who thought that helping Minh might lead to improved relations with the United States, and the congressman had persuaded a majority of his colleagues in the House of Representatives to press for help with Minh’s visa.Minh came to the U.S., where he still lives. but once he got to Vietnam, the Congressman realized that many thousands of Amerasian children were living in Vietnam, often in terrible conditions. Congressman Mrazek resolved to help these children. The result was the Amerasian Homecoming Act, which went into effect in early 1988.The AHA allowed Amerasians to come to the United States as lawful permanent residents. They are not considered refugees, but they do receive benefits (such as financial assistance and housing) normally reserved for refugees. In an important way, the law was quite succcesful–as a result of the AHA, approximately 25,000 Amerasians and about 70,000 of their family members immigrated to the United States.However, the law was not a success by all measures. For one thing, not all Amerasians in Vietnam learned about the AHA, and so many people who might have qualified to leave Vietnam were unable to do so.Another problem was fraud. One type of fraud involved people who claimed to be Amerasian, but who were not (there was no easy way to tell who was an Amerasian, and many decisions were made based on the person’s physical appearance). However, the more pervasive problem of fraud involved “fake families.” These were people who attached themselves to the Amerasian immigrants’ cases in order to come with them to the U.S. In many cases, the Amerasians agreed to this fraud because the fake families would pay the Amerasians’ expenses. Without this assistance, the Amerasians could not have afforded to immigrate. The extent of the fraud is unknown, but a November 1992 GAO report found that in 1991, about 20% of applicants were rejected for fraud. By 1992, 80% of applicants were rejected for fraud.A final problem–though perhaps this is not a problem with the AHA itself–is that many Amerasians had a tough time adjusting to life in the United States. A 1991-92 survey of 170 Vietnamese Amerasians found that some 14 percent had attempted suicide; 76 percent wanted, at least occasionally, to return to Vietnam. As one advocate put it, “Amerasians had 30 years of trauma, and you can’t just turn that around in a short period of time.”Of course, Amerasians did far better here than they could have in Vietnam, but given their difficult lives back home, the adjustment was often not easy. According to the Encyclopedia of Immigration:In general, the Amerasians who came to the United States with their mothers did the best in assimilating to American society. Many faced great hardships, but most proved resilient and successful. However, only 3 percent of them managed to contact their American fathers after arriving in the United States. By 2009, about 50 percent of all the immigrants who arrived under the law had become U.S. citizens.Now, Amerasians host black tie galas to celebrate their success as a unique immigrant community. And even in Vietnam, where they were vilified for many years, negative feelings towards Amerasians have faded.Finally, on a personal note, my first job out of college was for a social service agency that did refugee resettlement, and so I worked with Amerasians (and others) for a few years in the early 1990s. Of the populations we served, it seemed to me that the Amerasians had been the most severely mistreated. Many were illiterate in Vietnamese and spoke no English. They were physically unhealthy, and they had a hard time adjusting. Twenty five years after the AHA, it seems that Amerasians are finally achieving a measure of success in the United States. Their long journey serves as a reminder that persecuted people need time to become self sufficient. But the Amerasians–like other refugee groups–are well on their way to fully integrating into American society.The Children They Left BehindChildren of the Vietnam War (smithonianmag.com)Vietnamese Amerasians in America : Asian-NationVietnamese Find No Home Here in Their Fathers' Land (NYT 1991)1989 The Dust of Life: The Legal and Political Ramifications of the Continuing Vietnamese Amerasian Problem (elibrary.law.psu.edu)They came here as refugees. Now the U.S. may be deporting some Vietnamese nationals.Vietnamese deportees and Amerasians Thanh Hung Bui , from left, and Cuong Pham, from center, speak to U.S. lawyer and Vietnamese-American Tin Nguyen at a cafe in the suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on April 19, 2018.James Pearson / ReutersA few days before Christmas last year, Cuong Pham boarded a plane in Texas to fly to his home country of Vietnam, he said.He had last visited the country about a decade before, but this time, Pham wouldn't be returning to the U.S., where his wife and three children live. He was being deported.Pham didn’t want to go back, he said, “because all my life is in the U.S. It's not here.”I want to go back to my family, my wife and children…. I don’t even know what I’m going to do next.Pham was one of a small number of Vietnamese nationals who were deported last December despite a bilateral agreement that apparently excludes them from being deported, according to several immigration and civil rights advocates.In 2008, the U.S. and Vietnam signed a repatriation agreement that explicitly excludes Vietnamese nationals who arrived in the U.S. before July 12, 1995 — the date the two countries reestablished diplomatic relations — from being subject to deportation. Many of those who arrived before that date were refugees of the Vietnam War.But civil rights and immigration groups say they believe that seven Vietnamese nationals who arrived in the U.S. before 1995 were deported late last year and early this year.“Many of them have never been back to Vietnam and many of them don’t have any family there,” Phi Nguyen — litigation director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta (Advancing Justice-Atlanta), which earlier this year filed a lawsuit challenging the detention of Vietnamese nationals not covered under the 2008 agreement — said. “The idea of being returned to a place that they are no longer connected to is causing a lot of fear in the community, especially when people who are in this situation have felt safe for the last several years and have been able to rebuild their life here and create families here.”'AMERASIAN' HOMECOMINGPham, 47, was born in Vietnam and grew up there until he was 20 years old, immigrating to the United States in 1990, he said. The son of a U.S. serviceman, Pham said he came to the U.S. under the Amerasian Homecoming Act, a law that allows some Vietnamese nationals whose fathers were U.S. citizens as well as their next of kin to immigrate to the U.S.Pham received his final order of removal in 2009 following two convictions, he said. In 2000, he was convicted of indecent assault and battery of children under 14, a sex crime. In 2007, he was convicted of driving under the influence.Vietnamese deportee and Amerasian Cuong Pham , 47, who was deported from the U.S., poses outside his former house, where he lived before he fled to the U.S., in central Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on April 20, 2018.Kham / ReutersSince arriving in Vietnam, Pham has settled in a rural area of the country he described as a “jungle” where there is no running water. He said he has had difficulty in securing a job over the last four-and-a-half months as employers have rejected his inquiries based on his multiracial status. His wife has provided him with some financial assistance, but is also working to support their three children.“For me, right now it’s a very, very hard time,” he said by phone from Vietnam. “I want to go back to my family, my wife and children…. I don’t even know what I’m going to do next.”Reuters last month reported that former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius said a “small number” of people protected by the repatriation agreement have been sent back.Osius did not respond to a request for comment.As Cambodian deportations resume, community looks for ways to copeImmigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson Brendan Raedy said in an email that “both countries maintain and continue to discuss their respective legal positions relative to Vietnamese citizens who departed Vietnam for the United States prior to July 12, 1995.”The U.S. Department of State did not directly address the deportations when contacted by NBC News. Department spokesperson Ambrose Sayles said that the removal of aliens subject to a final order of removal, particularly those who pose a danger to national security or public safety, is a top priority for the U.S. government.“We continue to work closely with Vietnamese authorities to address this issue. ... The U.S. Government and the Vietnamese Government continue to discuss their respective positions relative to Vietnamese citizens who departed Vietnam for the United States,” Sayles said in an email.'IT'S ENTIRELY UP TO VIETNAM'Bill Ong Hing, a professor of law at the University of San Francisco who specializes in immigration law and policy, said that agreements such as the one between the U.S. and Vietnam that should exempt certain individuals from deportation are not law, but rather serve as guidelines that don't necessarily need to be followed.“In spite of the agreement, it's entirely up to Vietnam,” he said. “What usually happens is that the receiving country is not willing to take the people. But if the receiving country is willing to take the person, then there's not much that can be done about that.”A receiving country could be pressured into accepting or decide to accept deportees for various reasons, Hing noted.'Never too late to change': In deportation limbo, Tung Nguyen wants to help fellow felonsHe said it has been and remains uncommon for the repatriation of individuals protected under such agreements to be deported. Whether or not this trend continues is dependent on the Trump administration and ICE offices that prioritize which individuals to deport, he said.As of December 2017, there were more than 8,600 Vietnamese nationals residing in the United States subject to a final order of removal, 7,821 of who have criminal convictions, according to ICE. As of April 12, ICE has removed 76 Vietnamese nationals to Vietnam in fiscal year 2018 and had 156 Vietnamese nationals in detention.Raedy said that in calculating these figures, ICE does not track the year that immigrants with final orders of removal came to the United States.In fiscal years 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, the United States deported a total of 186 Vietnamese nationals, according to ICE data.Vietnamese deportee and Amerasian Cuong Pham , 47, who was deported from the U.S., uses his mobile phone while having a coffee in central Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on April 20, 2018.Kham / ReutersNguyen, the litigation director, said it is uncertain whether this is the first time Vietnamese nationals who arrived prior to 1995 have been deported, but that it is the first time her organization is aware of an effort to deport the individuals in large numbers since the 2008 agreement.Despite the group that has been deported, it does not appear as though Vietnam is willing to accept all pre-1995 Vietnamese nationals who have final orders of removal, Nguyen said.The lawsuit filed by Advancing Justice-Atlanta — along with Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, and the law firm Reed Smith LLP — alleges that at least 45 pre-1995 Vietnamese nationals are being detained without due process.It also stated that "the U.S. government claims that Vietnam is now 'willing to consider' repatriation of Vietnamese who came to the United States before July 12, 1995.”The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Vietnam did not respond to a request for comment.Nonprofits sue over immigration detention of Vietnamese nationals who came as refugeesDeportations of the seven pre-1995 Vietnamese nationals follow detentions in the community that took place last year.In early 2017, community organizations sent out an alert following the detention of about 40 Vietnamese nationals, Nancy Nguyen — the executive director of of the nonprofit VietLead, who is unrelated to Phi Nguyen — said.Pham was among those redetained early last year.The roundups prompted VietLead and several other groups to organize visits in November and December 2017 to a detention center in Georgia, Nancy Nguyen said. Through these visits, the organizations found that both pre- and post-1995 Vietnamese were being detained for prolonged periods of time. They also learned of six pre-1995 Vietnamese who had been deported.Phi Nguyen said ICE’s routine practice for decades was to release pre-1995 Vietnamese immigrants within 90 days of their order of removal because the agency knew it could not deport them.The idea of being returned to a place that they are no longer connected to is causing a lot of fear in the community.But beginning in March 2017, ICE began re-arresting those nationals, the lawsuit said. In March and late October to early November, detainees arrested from across the country were sent to detention centers to be interviewed by the Vietnamese Consulate, the suit alleges.A possible victory came on April 17 for some Vietnamese class members represented in the lawsuit when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision in a federal law that makes it easier to deport immigrants convicted of certain crimes.“If someone got their deportation order based on one of the crimes covered, then they have the ability to re-visit their removal order,” Phi Nguyen noted.She added that the court's decision will have an impact on class members, but that their cases still need to be examined more closely.“The U.S. not following the agreement is just another sign of it breaking rules and breaking our families apart,” Nancy Nguyen said. “As an organization, we’re working to hold the U.S. accountable to its promises.”Once shunned by many, Vietnamese Amerasians now celebrate their heritage (a San Jose gala in 2008). At a similar gathering, many in the audience wept when an Amerasian family that had just arrived in the United States was introduced. (Catherine Karnow)Read more: Children of the Vietnam WarChildren of Vietnam War servicemen seek U.S. citizenshipRandy Tran walked quickly past the majestic domes and marble statues of Capitol Hill, looking for the Cannon House Office building and the people he believed could help him.Tran, a Vietnamese pop singer who lives in a Bay Area suburb and sleeps on a friend's couch, flew 2,900 miles to be here. He rehearsed what he wanted to say. His English was not perfect. He was afraid he would have just a few minutes to make his case.He had a 3 p.m. appointment in the office of a Wisconsin congressman. He was not exactly sure what the congressman did, but he was certain that this was a powerful man who could help untangle a political process that had ensnared him and thousands like him.Tran came to Washington on behalf of abandoned children of American soldiers and Vietnamese women, born during the Vietnam War and, like him, seeking citizenship in the country their fathers fought for.Called Amerasians, many were left to grow up in the rough streets and rural rice fields of Vietnam where they stood out, looked different, were taunted as "dust of life." Most were brought to the United States 20 years ago after Congress passed the Amerasian Homecoming Act, which allowed the children of American soldiers living in Vietnam to immigrate. But citizenship was not guaranteed, and today about half of the estimated 25,000 Amerasians living in the U.S. are resident aliens.Tran lives in Hayward and travels the country crooning pop songs to Vietnamese fans at restaurants and concert halls. But he feels unsettled."I feel like I belong nowhere," said Tran, whose father was an African American whose name he likely will never know, but who gave him the mocha-colored skin so different from other Vietnamese."If I go to Little Saigon, they say, 'Are you Vietnamese? You look black.' If I go to the American community, they say, 'You're not one of us. You're Vietnamese.' "But most wrenching for Tran is his lack of citizenship, a constant reminder of being an outsider in what he considers his fatherland."Our fathers served for the country, fought for freedom," Tran said. "I am not a refugee, but I am being treated as one. We are Americans."Tran and 21 other Amerasians flew to Washington, D.C., for three days in July to lobby for the Amerasian Paternity Act. It would give Amerasians born during the Vietnam and Korean wars automatic citizenship, rather than requiring them to pass tests in English.Most of them had never been to Washington. Some purchased their first suits for the trip. Some spoke no English at all.Tran does not know his age. On paper he is 34, but he guesses he is closer to 37.His mother left him in an orphanage in Da Nang when he was days old. A few years later, a woman in a nearby village adopted him to help care for her cows. She refused to let him call her "mother."The neighbors gawked at his dark skin; the village children yanked his curly hair. At night he would dream that his hair had turned straight and that he could pour a liquid over his body to turn his face pale. He would hide behind the bamboo mat he slept on."They looked at us like we were wild animals, not people," Tran said.When the Homecoming Act passed in 1988, thousands of Vietnamese who wanted to escape the Communist government used the Amerasians as a device to flee. At 17, Tran was sold to a family for three gold bars. When the family got to America, they asked Tran to leave their home. He moved in with a friend's family.Like Tran, many Amerasians lacked the English skills, education and family connections that had helped other Vietnamese refugees assimilate. Many did not attend school in Vietnam and arrived in America illiterate. Many migrated to Vietnamese communities where they were once again shunned. Some turned to drugs or gangs.They received eight months of government assistance, including healthcare, English lessons and some job training. But the government did not help Amerasians locate their fathers, and funding for the program ended in 1995.In Washington, Tran and the other Amerasians crowded into a friend's house. There was Vivian Preziose from Queens, whose father brought her to the U.S. when she was 10. There was Jimmy "Nhat Tung" Miller from Seattle, who found his father a couple of years before the man died. There was Huy Duc Nguyen from Dallas, whose only clue about his father is that his last name sounds something like "Sheffer."They mapped out their plans. Preziose passed out 435 folders containing a letter she wrote. The next day they would deliver a folder to every congressional office. They also had appointments on Capitol Hill, so they rehearsed what they would say.Some stumbled over their words. Preziose encouraged them to speak from their hearts. Nguyen reminded them not to wear jeans. Tran advised them to speak slowly.A year ago, few of the Amerasians knew one another. That changed when Nguyen went to a screening of a documentary about Amerasians stuck in Vietnam and met others like him. They talked about helping those still in Vietnam and started reaching out to Amerasians across the country. They knew of Tran from his singing.Tran urged them to lobby for the citizenship bill, sponsored by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose). In September 2007, they formed the Amerasian Fellowship Assn., which now has 5,000 members.They had grown up haunted by a raw sense of being thrown away by their parents. Now mostly in their 30s and 40s, they came together for political reform, and along the way formed a community for those who felt invisible.The day after they handed out the folders, Tran anxiously waited on the marble steps of the Cannon building for his team to arrive.By the time they got to Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner's office (R-Wisconsin), they were five minutes late.They met a man in a tan suit with a faint smile.Tran introduced himself and began describing the difficulties faced by Amerasians. Many cannot speak English, he said, making it difficult to pass the citizenship test.The meeting lasted less than 25 minutes -- not enough time for Tran to say that he was not allowed to go to school in Vietnam, that while he tended to the cows he would peer through the schoolhouse windows at the students learning to read.Tran thought the man seemed confused why they were there. But he promised to do what he could to help.It wasn't until the man handed out his business card that Tran realized he wasn't talking to the congressman from Wisconsin. He was talking to a staffer."I didn't know who he was," Tran said. "I just knew we wanted to meet him. I wanted to tell our story."There is a lot Tran does not understand. He's not sure which of the two houses of Congress the bill is stuck in or why it is taking so long to become law. When he and other Amerasians met with Lofgren in the Capitol building, he thought they were in the White House.Lofgren warned the group that it was unlikely the bill would pass this year. But she promised to reintroduce it next year.Some of the Amerasians decided to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, believing the names of their fathers might be inscribed on the wall.Tran decided not to go. He has no clues as to who his father is. When Tran walked past an older black man on the street, he turned and looked.He still wonders why his mother left him to suffer in Vietnam. Once, it was a source of deep anger. But his fury turned to sympathy when he learned about the harsh conditions during the war, the stigma of having a child out of wedlock with an American.Perhaps she gave him away hoping he would have a better life. He once wrote a song called "After the War." When he performs it before Vietnamese audiences, they are often brought to tears.Tran later wrote an e-mail to the staffer. He mistakenly identified the man as "Mrs." He also sent along an English translation of the lyrics of "After the War."He has yet to hear back. But he has faith that America will come through, [email protected]