Image 01

The Golden Door

News and views on immigration law

Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam’

Asian exceed Latinos in immigration to the United States

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

You may have noticed it yourself — the number of documented Asian immigrants to the United States has exceeded that of Latino immigrants.  A recent Pew study has documented the numbers.  The study finds that the current crop of Asian immigrants tends to be both better educated than other immigrant groups and better educated than their peers in their home countries.  Asian immigrants also will be more likely to enter the United States through employment-based immigrant petitions than other immigrant groups.

Although my family entered the United States on a family immigrant petition, my mother, who was a computer programmer knowledgeable in Pascal, COBOL, and ADABAS-Natural – computer languages highly sought after in the United States in the late eighties and early nineties – was also a potential candidate for an employment-based immigrant petition.  In other ways my family fits the trend documented by the Pew Study.  My father has a medical degree, my mother a law degree.  My brother and I were too young to have accumulated advanced degrees at the time we came to the United States, but I eventually got my bachelor’s and law degree, and my brother has a bachelor’s and a master’s and is working on a second master’s.  My parents and I were recently mentioned, among others, in a Philadelphia Inquirer article about the changing trend in immigration.

However, trends can sometimes obscure individual realities, and serve as a convenient excuse to ignore vulnerable, needy populations.  While currently arriving immigrants from Asian countries may include a high proportion of highly skilled and educated individuals, this does not mean that all Asian immigrants are so well off that they do not need help and outreach.  Asian immigration over the history of America has included waves of laborers and refugees as well as educated professionals.  Refugee populations in particular can be particularly vulnerable when learning how to live in a new country.  Refugees generally do not arrive in an orderly, planned fashion, bringing with them money and resources and perhaps English language ability already.  Refugees can arrive in a new country with a few meager belongings, few or no relatives with them or already in place to support them, few work skills, limited education, and not knowing how to speak the language of their new home.  Asian refugees often come from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and East Timor.

Refugees are displaced people.  People who can no longer live in their home countries for fear of losing their lives or those of family members.  They often need intensive support services from government, private non-profit agencies, and informal community networks to adapt well to their new homes.  Sometimes support services are available, and sometimes they are not, and refugees have to make do.  It may not be too surprising then, that some Asian immigrants, especially those from refugee backgrounds, still struggle to get by and still need support services.

While I am glad to think that more and more of the incoming Asian immigrants today are highly skilled and educated, and will probably become valued and sought-after employees and dynamic entrepreneurs, I know from personal experience that this is just one facet of Asian immigration.  Like most things in life, while labels and categories are convenient to help organize our thinking, they should be a guide only, and not become rigid walls that stop us from recognizing the real factors that affect people’s lives.

A tribute to a Vietnamese mother on Mother’s Day

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

One of my favorite news magazines is The Week.  I was an early subscriber, when it was a very slim compilation of the week’s news, opinions, and reviews  from diverse sources, and had very few ads.  It has bulked up since then – mostly with ads, but still retains its essential character of delivering relevant snapshots of what’s happened in the past week.

This week, The Week excerpted some tributes to mothers from This I Believe (“The invaluable weight of a mother’s gifts”), a collection of essays from youths and adults about their core va;ies and beliefs.  The third story is about a single mother of two little girls who set off to escape Communist Vietnam, and the courage it took to make that decision and see it through to completion – acceptance into the United States as political refugees, and building new lives here.  For those of us who were once boat people ourselves it will bring back poignant, wrenching memories of journeys marked by fear, uncertainty, and also strength and bravery.  For others, it will provide a glimpse into what it means to be part of the Vietnamese diaspora known as the “Boat People.”

“Crossing a Cultural Gulf”

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Here’s a story that I found interesting.  It is about the Vietnamese American community in the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill:  http://www.napaba.org/uploads/napaba/Fall%202011.pdf (see cover story in the Fall 2011 NAPABA newsletter).

Although I have not met Mai Phan in person, we have spoken on the telephone and she has always done her best to be helpful when I need insight into a California legal issue.

I visited New Orleans recently, and got a superficial glimpse of the tight-knit Vietnamese American community in New Orleans East (also known as Versailles).  It was interesting to see a place in the United States where Vietnamese was as ubiquitous if not more so than English on storefronts and signs everywhere.  However, in reading “Crossing a Cultural Gulf,” I was also troubled to think that this community, whose roots in the Gulf Coast go back to the Fall of Saigon (1975), may still consist of long-term immigrants who have not learned English and thus are dependent on charity and language access services when they need to access services outside of their ethnic enclave.

Let me profess my ignorance here.  I don’t know the make-up of the Vietnamese American community on the Gulf Coast.  That is, I don’t know what percentage of the population are first wave immigrants, and what percentage are more recent immigrants who have not yet had the time and opportunity to learn English.  But, for the immigrants who have long established their homes here, to fail to learn English along the way is folly.  You become dependent on others, and vulnerable to scam artists who promise to  help you.  I have heard sob stories about Vietnamese “guides” who help people open bank accounts and apply for government benefits only to steal money or identities.

Over and over again, I have heard immigrants tell me (sometimes through interpreters) that they are too busy working to learn English.  I do not doubt that these individuals lead busy lives, working hard trying to make ends meet and raise their families as best they can.  But to fail to learn English is a failure to invest in the future.  Not speaking English means you must either work a labor-intensive job that does not require strong communication skills, or you work in a family business where it doesn’t matter that you cannot communicate in the common language of society around you.  Either way, you are limited in your options.  Too many immigrants, especially older immigrants and those with children who can speak English, decide that it will be the next generation who will move to that next level of prosperity that requires fluency in English.  These immigrants don’t believe that they themselves can progress any further.

Another handicap of not speaking English is that when you need legal help, if you are not eligible for legal aid (free legal services to the indigent) then the chances of your getting free interpretation services along with your legal services are small.  In that case, you need to find a lawyer who already speaks your language; and if you can’t find a lawyer specializing in the matter you need help with then you have to find an interpreter.  Maybe you have a family member who is old enough to have been raised in your native language but young enough to have learned English as a child and thus is fluent in both languages.  But the skills of such interpreters vary wildly, and interpreting legal terms can be tricky.  Chances are, you will not get the full import of what your lawyer is trying to tell you, and may make important decisions based on an imperfect understanding of your rights, obligations, and options.  Paying a professional or certified interpreter can add significantly to the cost of addressing the matter.

I speak Vietnamese, and I value that skill.  In our world today, the more languages one can speak the more doors are open to you.  Immigrants who live in an English-speaking country but fail to learn English are refusing to cross a gate to more opportunities.  Which is a sad irony, because don’t most of us immigrants move to a new country in search of new opportunities?  (And hence the name of this blog.)

In the Philadelphia area, several nonprofit organizations provide English language classes to immigrants, free of charge.  All it costs is your time and effort.  The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians is one such resource, as is Boat People SOS, Delaware Valley Branch.

Tran Law Associates helps Vietnamese immigrants file for immigration benefits.  If you need assistance with an immigration matter, please contact us at (215) 690-1933, or at info@tranlawassoicates.com.

De Hieu Tran – another immigration scam artist

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

On August 12, 2010, a 42-year-old Vietnamese man was arrested in Kentwood, Michigan, for falsely holding himself out to be a U.S. Marine and ICE officer, and for scamming the local Vietnamese community for immigration benefits. Only a licensed immigration lawyer or BIA accredited representative can perform this kind of service, and people seeking citizenship should be cautious when choosing their help in order to avoid scams like this.

De Hieu Tran was ordered deported in 2002, but instead of going back to Vietnam it appears that Tran used his experience with the immigration system to trick other Vietnamese into paying him money to deliver immigration benefits. Tran is accused of accepting large cash payments in return for his promises to get his ‘clients’ their “immigration paperwork” and “expedite their becoming naturalized United States citizens.”

Reports indicate that Tran has never served in any U.S. military branch nor been employed by ICE (ICE generally doesn’t employ deportees). Tran is reported to have even gone so far as to wear a Purple Heart, the military award given for being wounded or killed in combat, to impress his victims. When he was arrested, he was wearing a U.S. military flight suit with a USMC captain insignia. This raises the question, for me, of why he would bother. What real Marine goes about his or her civilian life routinely dressed in uniform? Did he think that being in uniform would make his claims of being able to deliver immigration benefits in exchange for money more believable? Apparently it worked, as reports indicate that Tran received thousands of dollars from at least four Vietnamese nationals for his ‘help.’ His victims thought they were paying a bribe for special, fast-track treatment, such as getting citizenship less than five years after becoming a permanent resident.

While Tran himself is a fine example of what you DO NOT want your children to grow up to be, I find that I also have little sympathy for his ‘victims.’ They bought into his promises of special treatment in return for a bribe. They wanted to jump the line and thought that they could buy their way in. Let me just say, to anyone thinking of taking a ‘shortcut’ by lying or falsifying documents, sure, there’s a chance you might get away with it, and get your citizenship a little sooner. After all, immigration officials are only human. They don’t know everything, and sometimes make mistakes. If you’re caught, however, you not only risk jail time and fines, but also losing whatever rights to immigration benefits you had before.

Applying for immigration benefits can be costly, time-consuming, and frustrating, and the process is often easier with the help of an immigration lawyer.  Believe me, I know this. I know it better than most people. Sometimes the law doesn’t make much sense. But if you don’t respect the law as it exists, and try to go around it for your sole, selfish benefit, please don’t expect to get any sympathy when you get caught. Not only do you do a disservice to yourself and your family, but you also do a disservice to the other members of your community, who must now deal with the bad reputation that your actions will bring upon them. When in doubt as to the law or your options, choose an experienced immigration lawyer to help you address your problems the right way.

Djung Tran, Esq.

Tran Law Associates

834 Chestnut Street #206
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 690-1933

Tam Tran: Eulogy for a DREAM Act activist

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

If you keep up with immigration news, you’ve probably been hearing a lot about the DREAM Act, and the most recent — and unsuccesful — push to get it enacted.  DREAM stands for the “Development, Relief, and Education of Alien Minors.”  This post, however, is not about the DREAM Act itself, but about one young woman who would have been a direct beneficiary of the DREAM Act had it become law.

This may be old news to those who keep up with DREAM Act stories, but on May 15, 2010, two DREAM Act activists were killed in a car accident:  Tam Ngoc Tran, age 27, and her good friend, Cinthya Nathalie Felix Perez, age 26.  It is Tam Tran’s story, in particular, that spotlights the legal limbo that those who come to the United States as children and grow up calling the United States home can find themselves in, although luckily there are immigration lawyers available to assist in such cases before they come to such a tragic point.

I’ll call her Tam, as it feels strange to call someone else “Tran” when that’s my name too.

Tam’s parents, Tuan Ngoc Tran and Loc Thi Pham, escaped Vietnam only to become refugees in Germany after being picked up at sea by the German navy.  Tam and her brother were born in Germany, but because Germany does not grant birthright citizenship neither she nor her brother are German citizens.  When Tam was six, her family came to the United States to be near other relatives already living here.  Upon their arrival, her parents applied for asylum based upon their fear of being persecuted for their anti-Communist political views if they were to return to Vietnam.  Tam’s father had been forced to attend a “re-education” camp before he and Tam’s mother had fled Vietnam.  For those of you who don’t know what “re-education” means, let’s just say it’s not fun and games.

Tam’s parents were denied their asylum application, but eventually, after further lengthy proceedings, were granted withholding of deportation.  This meant they would not be sent back to Vietnam because they would probably be persecuted if returned there.   U.S. immigration authorities then tried to get the family to return to Germany, but Germany refused to issue them visas.  After all, they weren’t German citizens.  So the family was effectively in legal limbo:  they did not have permanent resident status, but they were definitely documented aliens — Immigration knew exactly who they were and where they lived, and issued them work authorization documents on a regular basis.

So Tam grew up in Garden Grove, California, graduated from Santiago High School, then UCLA with honors, and then went on to doctoral program at Brown University.  She was a filmmaker and an activist, testifying on May 18, 2007, before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, in support of the DREAM Act.

In what Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) claims is a random coincidence, three days after Tam’s congressional testimony about her family’s plight, ICE agents staged a pre-dawn raid on her family home, arresting her parents and her brother for being “fugitives from justice.”  Tam wasn’t home at the time but if she had been she, too, would have been arrested.  As far as I can tell, ICE is still trying to deport the family back to Germany.  There is no hint of any criminal actions on the part of any family members.  ICE’s goal appears to merely be to clean house — that is, to deport any deportables and check them off their list.  An ICE spokesperson said that, before, Germany had refused to issue visas when the Trans themselves had made the request; this time, the U.S. government would be making the request, which would more likely result in approval.  A judicious use of immigration resources, indeed.

In researching Tam’s story, I came across a tribute to her on the OC Weekly, “A DREAM Act Undeterred.” Although I learned a lot about Tam and her hopes and dreams from this piece, there is one bit that I have to quibble with.  The article characterized her as undocumented.  She was not undocumented.  She just (just!) did not have permanent resident status.  The only thing that her parents might be guilty of in terms of violating U.S. immigration law was bringing their family to the United States on visitor visas in order to apply for political asylum.  Once here, though, her parents obeyed all the immigration laws and followed all the immigration procedures in their quest for asylum.  The end result was that they did not obtain permanent resident status, but neither were they actually ordered deported.  They remained in the United States on the U.S. government’s explicit permission.  Tam was not an “illegal alien.”  She was allowed to stay in the United States because there was no where that she could safely be sent back to.  But without permanent resident status many of the avenues of support, financial and otherwise, for bright young students and budding young professionals like herself were simply not available to her.

Not everyone who would qualify for relief under the DREAM Act is as sympathetic a figure as Tam.  But her story is an undeniable part of the DREAM Act conversation, and her death at a young age is a loss to America.  I never knew Tam, but I believe that she would have done great things in this country, whether or not she ever become a permanent resident or, eventually, the ultimate goal, a citizen.  I think America would have been proud to claim her as one of its own.

Djung Tran, Esq.

Tran Law Associates

834 Chestnut Street #206
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 690-1933