[F]reedom of the person under the protection of the habeas corpus...
— Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address (1801)
There are two great new Trump initiatives designed to make life in the United States less attractive for immigrants and reduce their number here. One is aimed at those who entered the country seeking asylum, and the other is for those who are already here who came from Vietnam following the end of the Vietnam war, and at some point and at some point during there stay here, encountered the criminal justice system. Each involves indefinite detention.
The beneficiaries of the first long term detention policy are those enjoying long term detention while awaiting hearings on their claims for asylum. Long term detention is the way to thwart those who want to thwart the Trump by seeking to gain permanent access to our country in defiance of the Trump’s persistent attempts to keep them out. Ansly Damus is a good example of that policy.
Ansly fled his home country of Haiti in 2014 after a vicious attack on him following a class he had taught in which he named a government official who, he told the class, worked with gangs to terrorize the population. Following the attack, he fled, first to Brazil, but uncomfortable there, left after a few months. In October 2016 he ended up at the California border and sought asylum.
The officer who interviewed him found he had a significant fear of persecution and he was granted asylum. The government appealed and lost two times. But during the pendency of the appeals, he was held in a cell at ICE’s Geauga County Safety Center. He has been imprisoned therefor more than two years while his appeals have been considered. His petition for habeas corpus was heard on November 28th, and time will tell the outcome of his petition. Meanwhile, he remains incarcerated.
The Trump has now discovered another group of people he can indefinitely detain in what, as in Ansly’s case, seems an obvious violation of the constitutional right of all who are in the United States, to not spend lengthy periods in prison without due process of law. The latest victims of the Trump agenda, are refugees from Vietnam, who in many cases have lived here for decades.
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In 2002, President George W. Bush entered into an agreement with the Vietnamese government. It provided that Vietnamese residents who came to this country before 1995 would not be deported even though convicted of crimes that would, for other immigrants, result in automatic deportation. The more lenient treatment of the Vietnamese came from a well-deserved sense of guilt for the United States’ role in that ill-fated conflict. As a result, and unlike what occurred with most other categories of refugees, when a Vietnamese immigrant who had been found guilty of criminal conduct was released from prison after serving the imposed sentence, that individual was not subject to deportation proceedings.
Unlike those who introduced the leniency policy towards Vietnamese convicted of criminal conduct after their arrival in this country, the Trump has no lingering feelings of guilt over what he and his family might well refer to as the “heel spur war.” It was, after all, his heel spur that enabled him to avoid serving in the military during the Vietnam war. He is now seeking to end the special treatment accorded those refugees by eliminating the practice that has historically permitted Vietnamese convicted of crimes to remain in this country. Towards the end of 2017, about 12 Vietnamese with criminal convictions were returned to Vietnam. He now wants to send back another 8,000 permanent residents.
A class action lawsuit and resistance from the Vietnamese government is temporarily blocking their return. Undaunted, the Trump has ordered that the prospective deportees be placed in long-term detention centers similar to those described above. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has said that immigration officials cannot hold refugees more than six months if deportation is probable in the “reasonably foreseeable future,” the Trump is undaunted and has held them longer and says he can hold them indefinitely.
The Vietnamese who are now detained may find some comfort in the plight of those Cambodians who have been living in this country and, like the Vietnamese now detained, have been the beneficiaries of an unstated rule similar to the rule protecting the Vietnamese although no formal agreement about their status was ever entered into.
More than 500 Cambodians who had been convicted of criminal conduct at some point in their residency here, have now been sent back to Cambodia. Many of them have never had contact with that country and have no family members still living there.
The Trump now plans to deport the largest number of legal Cambodians ever deported. Their deportation is scheduled to take place on December 19th. That will enable them to arrive in a country many of them left as infants and have never visited, just in time to celebrate Christmas. The families they have left behind will be celebrating Christmas without the deported family member. The Vietnamese awaiting court rulings won’t be back in Vietnam. They’ll be in holding cells in the United States. Merry Christmas.