Primary Sources: Congress Addresses the Fate of Vietnamese Orphans
In spring 1975, as Communist forces advanced into South Vietnam, members of Congress explored how the American government should become involved in the plight of orphans, particularly those of mixed American and Vietnamese parentage. Read these excerpts from the Congressional Record from before and during the Babylift, including the text of a bill that sought to address the orphans' situation.
A bill to confer United States citizenship on certain Vietnamese children and to provide for the adoption of such children by American families.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That, the Congress declares that --
(1) during the course of the Vietnam conflict, thousands of children were fathered in Vietnam by United States citizens;
(2) current procedures for adoption of and granting citizenship to illegitimate children born in Vietnam make provision of assistance extremely difficult;
(3) the French, following their departure from Vietnam in 1954, offered citizenship and educational assistance to the illegitimate children of French soldiers;
(4) Americans have expressed the desire to adopt Vietnamese orphans of American extraction, so that they may receive the care and love which the disruptions and tragedies of the Indochinese war have denied them;
(5) if adoption procedures could be expedited and red tape eliminated, there would be homes for thousands of Vietnamese-American orphans; and
6. the United States has a special responsibility to assist in facilitating the care and adoption of those children in South Vietnam whose parent is a United States citizen no longer providing parental care to the child.
SEC. 2. Notwithstanding the Immigration and Nationality Act, the children qualifying under section 3 shall be citizens of the United States.
SEC. 3. Each child shall be qualified for the purposes of the Act who, to the satisfaction of the State Department under such rules and regulations as the Secretary of State shall prescribe --
(1) was born in the Republic of Vietnam prior to January 1, 1974, and orphaned or abandoned;
(2) is of an age such that not more than twelve years have passed from the date of such child's birth to the date of the enactment of this Act;
(3) in all probability has or had one parent who was at the time of such child's birth a citizen of the United States; and
(4) is placed through an adoption agency in the United States licensed or properly accredited according to pertinent local, State, and Federal law with suitable parent or parents in the United States, with a preference for any natural parent of such child, who is or are willing to adopt the child upon its arrival in the United States.
SEC. 4. (a) The Department of State shall make the arrangements necessary to inform properly accredited adoption agencies in the United States of children potentially eligible for the benefits of this Act, and cooperate in the placement of such children under section 3 (4).
(b) the Department of State shall make the arrangements necessary to transport children who are qualified under this Act to their adoptive parents in the United States at the expense of the United States.
SEC. 5. The President and the Secretary of State are authorized to negotiate and to make such agreements with the Republic of Vietnam as are necessary to effectuate the purposes of this Act while assuring that citizenship conferred under this Act is in accordance with the norms of international law and the treaty obligations of the United States.
SEC. 6. No person shall acquire any right, privilege, or status under the Immigration and Nationality Act by reason of such person's relationship to any child granted citizenship under the first section of this Act.
Excerpt from Congressional Record -- House, March 12, 1975, p. 6349.
A Bill to Confer U.S. Citizenship Upon Certain Orphans
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. TSONGAS) is recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. TSONGAS. Mr. Speaker, there are approximately 700,000 orphaned and abandoned children in South Vietnam. Many of these children were fathered by U.S. citizens during the American military presence in Indochina. Thousands of these orphans are illegitimate and abandoned. Estimates of the number of Amerasian orphans has ranged all the way from 15,000 to over 400,000. The exact number is of far less consequence than the indifference with which our Government has treated this problem.
In 1954, when the French withdrew from Vietnam, they took 4,000 French-Vietnamese children to be raised in France. Forty centers in France were established to receive and care for them. When a Vietnamese mother chose to keep her child, she received support payments until the child was 8. The French also provided educational benefits to those children who remained in Vietnam.
By contrast, the American-Vietnamese children face discrimination in Vietnam. Orphans who are half black face serious prejudice, particularly the girls, who are invariably given away. Many social workers say they will be discriminated against throughout their lives and will find it difficult to be educated, find jobs, and marry.
Pearl S. Buck has said:
We Americans must take up our responsibility because we helped bring these children into the world.
Hundreds of American families have already overcome the administrative difficulties, the redtape, and the expense of bringing Amerasian orphans to the United States and adopting them. There are numerous families -- in my district in Massachusetts alone I have heard from many -- across the country who wish to adopt these children. They face a lack of official cooperation and the added difficulties of adopting an alien.
I have today introduced a bill which will confer U.S. citizenship upon these orphans who are adopted by Americans. In addition, the legislation will mandate the administration to provide for the facilitation of the adoption of such children by American families.
It is my belief that the United States bears a special responsibility to these children. At this time, when the debate rages about the extent of America's moral obligations to the people of Vietnam, can we possibly deny our obligation to these orphans?
It is important that we act now. These children are growing older. Orphanages in Vietnam are caring for some of the children, but there is a dropoff in financial and medical assistance. It has been estimated that as many as 80 percent of the children in the orphanages die of such diseases as dysentery, measles, worms, and polio. Many of the children are handicapped.
There are many tragedies of war which have been visited upon the people of Indochina. This is one of the few which we might erase. At the very least, let us in Government remove the roadblocks which confront those Americans of good will who stretch out their hands to these children.
Excerpt from Congressional Record -- House, March 18, 1975, p. 7082.
The Abandoned and Orphaned Children from Cambodia and Vietnam
(Mr. HANLEY asked and was given permission to address the House for 1 minute and to revise and extend his remarks.)
Mr. HANLEY. Mr. Speaker, while I support the orderly evacuation of adoptable abandoned and orphaned children from Cambodia and Vietnam, I am greatly concerned that every precaution be taken to assure that children are not separated illegally from their families still residing in these countries.
Recent news articles have indicated that some children, who may not have been legally given up for adoption, were herded onto an airplane and evacuated from Cambodia. While we, as Americans, might argue that these children will be better off in the United States, we must bear in mind that these children may have been unlawfully separated from their parents or guardians. When accomplishing the mass evacuation of children from orphanages and foster homes we must remember that, in many instances, parents who are unable to care for their children have placed them in the care of orphanages or foster homes with the intention of reclaiming their children as soon as they are able. One can only imagine the grief that a Vietnamese or Cambodian mother might face upon learning that her child had been evacuated to the United States, and that she might never see the child again. Of course, in most cases, the children are too young to resist being taken from their lawful parents and do not realize the impact of what is happening to them.
Lest we be branded as a nation of international kidnapers, and our humanitarian efforts go astray through hasty actions, we must recognize and respect the legal rights of the parents and guardians of these children. If the good which is being accomplished through the orphan airlifts is not to be overshadowed by impetuous deeds, every effort must be made to make certain that only legally adoptable children are evacuated to this country.
Excerpt from Congressional Record -- House, April 17, 1975, p. 10458.