A Sanctuary is a Refuge

April 17, 2018

By Dr. Tung Nguyen

A sanctuary is a place where people can find safety from persecution for their families. In many countries, churches and temples have often served as sanctuaries against oppressive governments. This is because protecting other people from harm is a fundamental tenet of morality. As refugees, Vietnamese Americans know the value of a refuge. Most Vietnamese Americans are here because humanitarians in the U.S. government made America a safe place for us.

When the Trump Administration drastically increased ICE raids to round up undocumented immigrants, the state of California passed three laws, for humanitarian reasons:

  • SB 54, the sanctuary law, prevents law enforcement officials in California from using public resources for immigration enforcement, such as detaining immigrants on behalf of  ICE when immigrants are being released from jailor transferring them to federal custody except in narrow circumstances.
  • AB 450, the workplace-raid law, prevents employers from collaborating with ICE agents during workplace raids by refusing access to nonpublic areas or records without a warrant.
  • AB 103, the detention review law, requires the California Attorney General to review any detention facility conditions, requiring such facilities where immigrants are being held pending immigration hearings, removal, or unaccompanied minors, to maintain a standard of care.

Jeff Sessions, the U.S. Attorney General, has filed a lawsuit against these California laws. The Sessions lawsuit is unlikely to succeed because the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects states’ rights. A federal judge has ruled in favor of California’s position in a prior lawsuit. Nonetheless, cities such as Westminster have voted to support the Sessions lawsuit.

Disappointingly, two Vietnamese American Westminster city council members voted to support the lawsuit. This is despite the fact that many Vietnamese Americans had suffered greatly in Vietnam from oppression by the government and its security agents. Many Vietnamese American small businesses are at risk of disruptions to their business and possible loss of their employees.  Most notably, many Vietnamese Americans are currently held in ICE detention centers with inhumane conditions, such as the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange County, where immigrants are often held in solitary confinement, forced to use moldy showers and eat spoiled food.

Some Vietnamese Americans justify the federal government’s position by stating that they came to the U.S. legally as refugees, not as undocumented immigrants. They have conveniently forgotten that in the 1980s, many of us lingered for years in the refugee camps because Americans were arguing whether we counted as political refugees or economic immigrants. Vietnamese refugees argued that our people be let into the U.S. for humanitarian reasons.

At the Westminster City Council meeting to discuss this vote, many Vietnamese Americans came to support the sanctuary laws but were prevented from speaking or even entering the meeting room. This is a tactic from the kind of authoritarian regimes that Vietnamese refugees seeked to escape. Disturbingly, many people who opposed the sanctuary laws revealed their racist side by telling Vietnamese Americans who supported the laws  to go back to Vietnam. Sadly, the Vietnamese American City Council members chose to align themselves with these racists. The large turnout of young Vietnamese Americans in support of the law showed what these Council members stand for is not the future of our community.

As people who have benefited from humanitarian policies and as human beings, Vietnamese Americans are obligated to do the same for others. When the bullets were flying, the Communists were imprisoning, and the pirates were robbing, all we wanted was food, shelter, freedom, and safety for our families. What we wanted was a sanctuary, a refuge. That is all that undocumented immigrants want, too.