Federal legislation designed to ease immigration of Vietnamese Amerasian children and their close relatives to the United States.Date:
Enacted on December 22, 1987; effective on March 21, 1988.Significance:
This was the first federal law that substantially eased the immigration of Amerasian children born during the Vietnam War—mostly the offspring of American fathers and Vietnamese mothers. By 2009, about 25,000 Vietnamese Amerasians and 60,000 to 70,000 of their relatives had immigrated to the United States under this law.
During the long conflict in Vietnam in which the United States was involved from the early 1960’s until 1975, many American soldiers and civilian personnel working in Vietnam fathered children with Vietnamese women. Because U.S. authorities discouraged marriages between Americans and Vietnamese, only the most determined Americans managed to take their Vietnamese wives and children to the United States before American involvement in the war ended in early 1975.
At the time Vietnam was officially reunified under communist rule on July 2, 1976, it was estimated that tens of thousands of Vietnamese Amerasian children were living in the country with virtually no contact with their American fathers. The communists detested these Amerasians, whom they regarded as contemptible half-breeds, or bui doi, “children of the dust.” Their most severe contempt was for children who had African American fathers.
In 1982, the U.S. Congress passed the Amerasian Immigration Act, which theoretically allowed for the immigration of Vietnamese Amerasians to America. However, because the Vietnamese government was not cooperative, only about 6,000 Amerasians and 11,000 of their relatives reached the United States under this law, which was part of the Orderly Departure Program that began in 1979. However, in 1987, even this limited avenue for Amerasian immigration appeared to close as Vietnam objected to the program’s classification of Amerasians as refugees. In response, the U.S. Congress passed a bill sponsored by Robert Mrazek and others in the House of Representatives and John McCain in the Senate as the Amerasian Homecoming Act. The law became effective on March 21, 1988. It was set to expire in two years but was extended. In 2009, it was still the basis for processing a shrinking number of applicants, who had to be children of American citizens and had to have been born between January 1, 1962, and January 1, 1976.
Under the law, Amerasians and their relatives could apply for immigration to the United States. They were given full refugee assistance, even though they were not officially classified as refugees. During the peak years of immigration under this law, from 1988 to 1993, about 95 percent of all applicants and their relatives were admitted. By that time, the law had facilitated immigration for about 20,000 Amerasians and about 50,000 of their relatives. In 1993, however, the U.S. government learned that there had been widespread misuse of the law, as ordinary Vietnamese citizens eager to go to America had been paying bribes in order to pose as relatives of Amerasians who were pressured to participate in the scheme. It was estimated that about 17 percent of the immigrants admitted under this law were fake relatives. In response, U.S. government approval of later applications fell to as low as 5 percent after 1994.
By 2009, about 25,000 Amerasians and 60,000 to 70,000 of their relatives had immigrated to America under the Amerasian Homecoming Act. By then, however, the annual numbers had severely declined. In fiscal year 2007, for example, only 129 immigrants were admitted to the United States under the law. In June, 2009, the U.S. consulate in Ho Chi Minh City began processing applications on a special appointment basis only.
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.
R. C. LutzFurther Reading
McKelvey, Robert. The Dust of Life: America’s Children Abandoned in Vietnam. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999.
Nguyen, Kien. The Unwanted. Boston: Back Bay Books, 2001.
Yarborough, Trin. Surviving Twice: Amerasian Children of the Vietnam War. Dulles, Va.: Potomac Books, 2005.
See also: Amerasian children; Asian immigrants; Child immigrants; Families; Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975; Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization Service ; Orderly Departure Program; Refugees; VietnamWar; Vietnamese immigrants.