FLASHBACK: Democrats Tried To Block Thousands Of Vietnam War Refugees—Including Orphans
While there was recent rebellion against President Trump’s refugee, executive order, there were many liberals in 1975 associated with big-name Democrats against any Vietnam refugees wanting out of South Vietnam as it was absorbed by communists—there were millions! These left wingers were not even open to orphans coming to America.
[Vietnam refugees regroup and recharge in a shed while awaiting transportation across the Libyan and Tunisian border passage of Ras Jdir. | Circa Feb. 2011 | Photo: Zora Bensemra/Reuters]
California Governor Jerry Brown led the anti-refugee outfit that included well-known liberals such as Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman (D-NY) and former-presidential “peace candidate” George McGovern.
According to the LA Times, Brown tried to keep Vietnamese-refugee-carrying planes from landing at Travis Air Force Base near San Francisco. Close to 500 people came in daily—a total of 131,000 relocated to the US between 1975 and 1977. Even with all the liberal Democrats protesting, these people came to America in hopes to survive. LA Times Journalist George Skelton reported the California governor of having “...his own checkered history of demagoguery about refugees.”
In 1975, millions of pro-American and US-employed South Vietnamese folks felt trapped when communists took over their country. Northwest Asian Weekly journo and Vietnamese émigré Tung Vu shared his recollections of Vietnamese hardships of the ’70s. “After the fall of Saigon, many Vietnamese chose to leave by any means possible—often in small boats. Those who managed to escape pirates, typhoons, and starvation sought safety and a new life in refugee camps,” Tung wrote.
Actually, President Gerald Ford led the Republicans who fought for refugees’ safe entry into the US. More, when managing the 1975 Indochinese-refugee resettlement, Ford Inter-Agency Task Force Leader Julia Taft told Tears Before the Rain: An Oral History of the Fall of South Vietnam author Larry Engelmann in his book, “The new governor of California, Jerry Brown, was very concerned about refugees settling in his state.”
NPR host Debbi Elliott examined Brown’s refugee reluctance when she interviewed Taft in January, 2007. The conversation aired on their flagship show, All Things Considered, and Taft said, “Our biggest problem came from California due to Brown.” She labeled Brown’s refugee refusal as “a moral blow.”
“I remember, at the time, we had thousands and thousands of requests from military families in San Diego, for instance, who had worked in Vietnam, who knew some of these people.” Taft explained and went onto add this of refugee-opposing liberals: “They said they had too many Hispanics, too many people on welfare—they didn’t want these people. ... They didn’t want any of these refugees, because they had also unemployment,” she added. “They had already a large number of foreign-born people there. They had—they said they had too many Hispanics, too many people on welfare, they didn’t want these people.”
Brown worked to perpetuate his isolationist ideology throughout his first term in office. In the book, Refugee Workers in the Indochina Exodus, author Larry Clinton Thompson cited Brown saying, “We can’t be looking 5,000 miles away and at the same time neglecting people who live here.”
Simultaneously with the Brown-Washington fight, Democrats executed an anti-refugee campaign within the United States’ capital. Meanwhile, Ford appealed to Congress in an effort to expediently aid thousands of Cambodians escaping certain genocide ignited by the communist Cambodian Pol Pot regime. However, while in Washington, Ford was countered and shunned by many high-ranking Democrats.
CQ Almanac’s review of the Congressional debate has heavy liberal and Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman being staunchly against aiding the refugees. Reflective of Brown, she attempted to instigate conflict between her constituents and the refugees. According to the almanac, she said, “some of her constituents felt that the same assistance and compassion was not being shown to the elderly, unemployed and poor in this country.”
The almanac also cites Rep. Donald Riegle (D-MI) proposing an amendment entailing funds being denied to the refugees lest the same aid was offered to Americans—he later went on to be Michigan’s senator. The House reject his amendment—346 to 71. There was even a House Democrat who worked to stall the airlift of Vietnamese orphans—Rep. Joshua Eilburg, Democratic chairman of the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship and International Law. He claimed the Ford Administration was acting “with unnecessary haste” in the orphan evacuation.
According to the Library of Congress, liberal congressmen worked to further slow the refugee legislation, saying, “they would rather wait for the administration to formulate a plan for the care and evacuation of refugees before approving the humanitarian aid.” Then-Senator Joe Biden aided their attempts, explaining to the Senate that they needed more information on this hasty move before he would back it up. Biden said, “[The White House] had not informed Congress adequately about the number of refugees.”
Ultimately, most of the Democratic objections pontificated on refugees wanting to escape communism—an ideology unopposed by many of the liberals at the time.
“One of the justifications that Ford gave was related to communism. He said these people are all fleeing communism, which was the same criteria that had been used for the Cubans, the Hungarians, other refugee groups that had been processed in the past,” Taft said.