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Sanchez Spurns Vietnam Visa Rules

April 07, 2006|Juliet Chung | Times Staff Writer

Vietnam has finally opened its door a crack for Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove), but she says it isn't wide enough.

After denying four previous visa requests from Sanchez in the last two years, the Vietnamese Embassy on Thursday approved the fifth -- submitted, she said, by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican from Illinois, on her behalf.

But Sanchez, who represents the largest Vietnamese community outside Vietnam, said the visa came with so many strings attached that she would forgo the trip and attend to work in Orange County instead.

"I'm not going to play that game with them," said Sanchez, who would have been part of Hastert's May delegation to Vietnam, which, she said, would focus on trade. Her previous, unsuccessful request had been for a trip to be made about the same time, but independently.

"They only want me to be by the speaker's side," Sanchez said Thursday, "and they won't talk to me about other issues that are not what the speaker has on his agenda."

Sanchez, who said she had hoped to meet with political prisoners and human rights dissidents, said she had been told her initial visa request was denied because the Vietnamese government would be busy receiving the Hastert delegation. She said she suspected that the real reason was her criticism of Vietnam's human rights record.

Cuong Nguyen, a spokesman for the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, said only that the National Assembly would indeed be busy with Hastert's group in May but was willing to play host to Sanchez independently later.

"If she wants to come some other time, then that's no problem," Nguyen said, but "we already have [a] congressional delegation [in May], so we already have plans."

Some in the county's Vietnamese community said Thursday that Sanchez's decision not to go with Hastert made sense.

"What's the point of going when they say, 'You cannot do this, you cannot do that'?" said Tony Lam, the now-retired first Vietnamese immigrant elected to Westminster's City Council.

"You might as well stay at home."

But Nick Lecong, a Garden Grove planning commissioner, questioned her motives.

"Anytime it's near the election year," said Lecong, a Republican, "she's using that issue to get the support from the Vietnamese community."

Sanchez, who went to Vietnam with President Clinton in 2000, countered that her last requests for visas had been in 2004 and 2005, both years when she was not running for reelection.

"I began trying to go to Vietnam since the end of the last election," she said, "so this is not because it's an election year."

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