In recent years, the State Department has described the human rights situation in Vietnam as "unsatisfactory" and detailed a litany of violations, including limits on free speech and the denial of swift trials. Other groups, such as Amnesty International and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, have also documented human rights violations in Vietnam.
But advocates for greater immigration controls applauded the repatriation memo. "The mistake was normalizing relations with Vietnam a decade ago without such a memorandum of understanding," said Mark Krikorian, director of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies. He dismissed concerns about Vietnam's human rights record.
"There are a lot of bad countries in the world, but it ain't Auschwitz," he said, describing it instead as "authoritarian."
Charlie Manh, a lawyer from Westminster, expressed concern that the pact would target those who overstayed their visitor or work visas, or those who came here legally and committed crimes but have rebuilt their lives.
"If you look into the real details, some don't deserve to be deported," Manh said. "For those with extreme hardship and the fact that they don't have any more family members over there, the law should have exceptions for them not to be deported."
In 2002, the U.S. and Cambodia signed an agreement for the deportation of Cambodian nationals who were convicted of aggravated felonies.
Assemblyman Van Tran (R-Garden Grove) said he feared deportees could be harassed or intimidated in Vietnam.
"There has to be stringent oversight to ensure that the people are not politically persecuted when they go back to Vietnam," he said. "There are very legitimate concerns, given Vietnam is still a one-party totalitarian state."
Times staff writer Nicole Gaouette in Washington contributed to this report.