MSNBC's Hayes Brown: Vietnam Withdrawal Shows US Needs to Take Care of Afghan RefugeesBreaking News
tags: war on terror, Vietnam War, Afghanistan, refugees
The rapid fall of Kabul to the Taliban drew immediate comparisons to the scene over 40 years ago when Saigon was captured in the last days of the Vietnam War. The comparison was only amplified as images of Afghans desperately clinging to U.S. planes Monday went viral.
For now, let’s set aside President Joe Biden’s promise that we wouldn’t see these wrenching scenes, that this time things would be different. Instead, we should focus on what happened next after the fall of Saigon in 1975 — Congress’ nearly immediate approval of a program to take in and provide for Vietnamese refugees.
By April 1975, it was becoming clear to the U.S. that the South Vietnamese government wouldn’t last long against a North Vietnamese assault. President Gerald Ford’s administration was by then lobbying Congress for assistance to get remaining Americans out of the country, as well as Vietnamese allies whose lives would be at risk should the communists capture them. In a preview of the Biden administration’s rhetoric over the last few months, the Ford White House was hesitant to sound the alarm too loudly for fear of demoralizing the South Vietnamese in the fight ahead.
In a meeting with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the White House on April 14, Ford’s request was met with skepticism. Most were concerned with Ford’s plan linking the evacuation plans with a request for over $700 million in military aid to the South Vietnamese government. The administration argued that the money would help stabilize the country enough to safely retrieve the evacuees.
Others, though, were more concerned with the idea of bringing the Vietnamese to America — one senator in attendance even suggested shipping them off to Borneo. Ford, to his credit, responded to that suggestion with an insistence that the U.S. needed to take them in:
“Let me comment on where they would go: We opened our door to the Hungarians. I am not saying the situation is identical, but our tradition is to welcome the oppressed. I don't think these people should be treated any differently from any other people — the Hungarians, Cubans, Jews from the Soviet Union.“
But Congress wasn’t having it — at least not with the possibility of U.S. forces’ fighting the North Vietnamese again. The day after the fall of Saigon, the House voted to reject the final version of the Vietnam Humanitarian Assistance and Evacuation Act, a bill that would have provided $150 million for evacuation plans and given Ford the green light to use military force to protect American evacuees. The Vietnam Contingency Act, which had passed the Senate weeks earlier, never made it to the House floor for a vote.
Less than a month later, though, Congress did pass the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act. The law provided over $450 million to support the assimilation of eventually 130,000 South Vietnamese refugees who had been evacuated. (That works out to over $2.3 billion in 2021 dollars.) These refugees were originally taken to Guam before being granted “parole” by the attorney general to enter the U.S. mainland legally. (The process for refugee immigration shifted to the system we know today under the Refugee Act of 1980.)
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