A Vietnamese activist on the run is facing possible deportation from the U.S. back to Vietnam after fleeing the country and embarking on a journey through seven countries in a quest to seek asylum.
Ha Van Thanh, born in 1982 left Vietnam on May 12 2018 because he was afraid of being imprisoned like fellow activists Hoang Duc Bing and Nguyen Nam Phong, all of whom were involved in a collective march with hundreds of victims of the Formosa marine environmental disaster in April 2016.
The massive spill of toxic waste by the Taiwan-owned Formosa firm destroyed livelihoods across Vietnam’s central coast and led to widespread protests and arrests in affected provinces.
While at an immigration detention center in Chaparral, New Mexico, Ha contacted RFA’s Vietnamese service by phone and explained the details of his journey.
“From Vietnam I traveled to Laos and Thailand. Then in Thailand I bought a ticket to Cuba. In Cuba I bought a plane ticket to Panama and asked for asylum there,” said Ha.
“As I was waiting [in Panama] for asylum, I met some Cuban migrants [on their way] to Mexico so I asked to accompany them. When we arrived in Mexico they let me stay there for about 20 days,” he said.
Ha said he then walked to the U.S. border and met with police to request asylum.
While in detention, he went through immigration questioning and went to court three times. Ha said after the third trial he was denied refugee status and is scheduled to be deported.
“The third time I was in court, the court told me that I am not eligible for asylum because they don’t believe me, and they don’t believe what I did in Vietnam. After that I have one chance to appeal and my lawyer filed for the appeal in court, but they refused [my appeal] on May 10, saying that I’ll be deported in 30 days.”
RFA contacted the lawyer, Khanh Pham to ask why the court refused Ha’s case.
“We submitted all of the evidence brought by Mr. Ha,” he said.
Among the evidence was proof that Ha had been beaten by authorities and letters from an activist Catholic priest he had associated with during the protests. In addition there were summons to work with police in finding other suspects that Ha had protested with, said Pham.
“This evidence is already on file, but that does not mean that the judge will make a decision based on the recorded evidence. The judge also asked him questions releated to the evidence and there are times when Mr. Ha did not answer correctly, and other times he didn’t know how to answer the question,” Pham said.
“At the end of the trial, the judge said that it might have happened, but she did not believe Mr. Ha’s words.”
Pham said he helped Ha file an appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).
“After his appeal suit is over and the BIA makes a final decision, the case can still be appealed to a federal court, but the immigration department can still deport him right now,” Pham added.
Tri Ta, the Vietnamese-American mayor of Westminster, California, has taken notice of Ha’s case and is trying to help.
“We received an email from someone in another state and this is probably the person who is working to help Ha Van Thanh stay in the United States.” said Mayor Ta.
He said that within the email there was a file that contains the full record of Ha Van Thanh and it has been forwarded to Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif).
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Channhu Hoang. Written in English by Eugene Whong.