111. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for Domestic Affairs and Policy (Eizenstat) and Frank Raines of the Domestic Policy Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) and Michel Oksenberg of the National Security Council Staff1


  • State Department Proposal on Indochinese Refugees

We have reviewed, as you requested, your draft memorandum concerning the State Department proposal to admit 15,000 Indochinese refugees.2 Our concerns on this matter relate to (1) the need for a long-term plan for dealing with the refugee problem in that area, (2) the specific refugees proposed to be admitted, and (3) the relationship to the current HEW assistance program for Indochina refugees.


We appreciate the urgency of the situation and agree that the United States has a responsibility to take a leadership role in coping with the refugee problem in Southeast Asia. Our concern is that the State proposal does not address itself at all to what our policy should be. It is not clear that admission of refugees to the United States is the only way to find a new home for new refugees.

We understand that many of the countries in Southeast Asia are reluctant to admit additional refugees until they have assurances that other permanent arrangements will be made for them. It would appear, though, that such assurances need not necessarily take the form of admitting refugees to the United States. We do not know whether State has taken steps to encourage efforts by other countries, or to augment the efforts of the UN High Commissioner. We also do not know whether the receiving countries in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, could be induced to retain the refugees if sufficient economic assistance were provided.

It seems clear that should the U.S. admit additional refugees there will be an incentive for additional refugees to escape and pressures later for more admissions to this country. Given the inevitability of these events it would [Page 391] seem to be incumbent on State to indicate how it proposes to deal with this problem in the long run.

It is our understanding that the use of the parole authority to admit the refugees would not be very popular on the Hill. You may want to check with Frank Moore to determine the likely reaction. One concern is that the Congress might seek to curtail future admissions by some limitation of the parole power. This could make the development and implementation of a long-term policy even more difficult. Perhaps we need to take the lead by proposing future legislative authority to admit Indochinese refugees at the same time that the Attorney General exercises his parole authority in this instance.

If we are really concerned about the fate of these refugees, it may be prudent not to jeopardize the future of tens of thousands of them in our haste to deal with the present emergency.


It is our understanding that there are actually four classes of refugees involved. First, there are the 6000 boat refugees who are currently being provided only temporary resettlement, if any at all. Second, are some 6,500 refugees in Thailand who fled Vietnam because of previous involvement with the American presence. Third, is a group of 1,500 close relatives of refugees already in the United States. The fourth group is composed of the remaining 72,000 refugees in Thailand supported through the UN High Commissioner.

If the problem is to induce the countries receiving the boat cases to continue to admit refugees, on at least a temporary basis, the focus should probably be on moving the current boat refugees from those countries to a place of more permanent settlement. That more permanent settlement could be in the United States or in some other country. It could even be in Thailand if the current refugee population there were reduced.

This raises the question of which refugees to admit. The immediate crisis could be abated simply by admitting to the U.S. the boat refugees. However, these people, it would seem, have less claim for admission to this country than the relatives of current residents, the former associates or even many of the other refugees already in Thailand. There is no emergency need to admit the relatives or former associates, which may make use of the parole authority inappropriate. This leaves us with a situation where we may end up admitting lower priority people simply because we have the executive power to do so.

We would suggest that some thought be given to a trade with Thailand, permitting the permanent resettlement of the boat refugees in exchange for the admission of an equivalent number of refugees already in Thailand. This could reduce the admissions from 15,000 to 8,000. Justice [Page 392] will have to decide if this would be an appropriate use of the parole authority.


We will need to closely coordinate the President’s consideration of this issue and the proposed extension of the Indo-Chinese Refugee Program. OMB is apparently still considering the request from Secretary Califano.3

The major policy concern is that the admission of more refugees will require continuation of the special welfare program. That would conflict with an expressed Administration desire to terminate the program, either immediately or on a phased basis. Given the experience of the states with the current refugee population it would probably be unwise to assume that no income maintenance or services will be required. On the other hand, if the new admissions should prove unpopular, an extension along the lines proposed by Secretary Califano might be difficult to obtain from Congress.

The political realities of the situation are that the admission of these additional refugees will make it impossible to terminate the HEW program on September 30 as currently planned or within the three year time frame suggested by Secretary Califano. This is a matter of considerable consequence on which the views of OMB will need to be reflected.

Conclusion: I would support allowing the Attorney General to use his parole authority, particularly if it can be done along the lines of the trade suggested above. However, a clearly defined plan with carefully prescribed limits on future entry should be immediately developed. The strategy you suggest of treating the new refugees in the same way as the old refugees for funding of welfare services is probably the best we can hope for.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 51, Refugees, 7–12/77. No classification marking. Raines did not initial the memorandum.
  2. No draft memorandum has been found. For the final version, see Document 112. For the State Department proposal, see Document 110.
  3. Not further identified.