My Cousin Runs ICE. He’s Killing the Same American Dream Granted to His Own Parents.
The lie at the heart of the Pham family ‘pass to freedom’
In August, my mother forwarded me an email. “Trump administration taps Vietnam refugee as new ICE chief,” it said. I opened it, and learned that my cousin, Tony Pham, had just been appointed to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Tony’s ascent to this position instilled great pride in my family, especially among the older members who skew politically conservative. I, however, was appalled that my cousin allowed his identity as a refugee to be used as cover for the enforcement of increasingly cruel and dehumanizing immigration policies. And I questioned my cousin’s claim that he had followed the “lawful path to citizenship,” which doesn’t give a full picture of what really happened.
My cousin came to this country in 1975, one of 125,000 Vietnamese refugees who were resettled in the United States as a result of the Vietnam War, despite strong public opposition. “To ignore the refugees in their hour of need would be to repudiate the values we cherish as a nation of immigrants,” said President Ford, who’d fought to bring them here. “I was not about to let Congress do that.” This year, President Trump capped the number of refugees our country would accept at 18,000 worldwide. Had my cousin needed refuge in the United States today, the chances he would be permitted to enter would be slim.
When the communists took over Vietnam in 1975, millions of people were desperate to flee the country. This was certainly true for my uncles, who had served in the South Vietnamese military alongside U.S. troops. They would have faced certain torture and possible death had they stayed. Like today’s refugees, they would undertake any means possible to avoid persecution and to protect their families.
This is precisely what Tony’s father did. Tony was two years old at the time his parents emigrated. Had his family remained in Vietnam, he would likely have watched his father ripped away and possibly killed, seen his family’s livelihood destroyed, and grown up in poverty. But Tony was lucky. My mother had a devoted friend named Jerry Edwards, who us kids always called Mr. Edwards. He was an official in the U.S. Embassy in…