117. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance to President Carter1


  • Emergency Parole for Indochinese Refugees

As indicated in my memorandum to you of November 18,2 we are beginning consultations with the Congress on the long-term problem of Indochinese refugees and have briefed key figures on the immediate emergency. We have begun discussions with Congressman Eilberg and his staff. Eilberg remains interested in using his omnibus refugee bill3 as the framework for long run acceptance of Indochinese refugees, and we now believe that a compromise with him may be workable when we resume more detailed discussions in January. Meanwhile, we are reviewing with OMB and other interested agencies a revised Administration position on the Eilberg bill which will be the basis for the next round of consultations. We have also begun discussions with Senator Kennedy and his staff who favor US action to accept Indochinese refugees.

In our consultations with Congress we have discussed the sharp increase in recent months of the flow of Indochinese boat refugees and how we can best deal with this situation.

The 7,000 parole numbers authorized in August for boat refugees have been exhausted. Despite continuing international efforts which have absorbed 1,200 refugees over the past four months, over 4,700 refugees now line various beaches in Southeast Asia and are without any offer of permanent resettlement. Boat refugees are continuing to flee Vietnam at the rate of over 1,500 monthly.

The shortfall in permanent resettlement offers for boat refugees has, despite our strong protests, recently led Thailand (which has already accepted nearly 100,000 Indochinese refugees) to push several Vietnamese refugee boats with over 250 persons back out to sea. Other countries of temporary safehaven in the area could follow suit.

I believe that the boat refugee situation has become so acute that we cannot await the formulation of a long-term policy with Congress which could take several months before implementation. If we do [Page 408] nothing in the interim, lives will be lost. We have discussed the emergency with key Congressional figures. Kennedy is supportive. Eastland has indicated he will go along and Eilberg should also agree, based on recent talks with him. We will also talk to Peter Rodino.

The voluntary agencies responsible for resettlement of Indochinese refugees have been urging further U.S. action—both to meet the present emergency and over the longer run. Indeed, they have requested a meeting with you to discuss the Indochinese refugee “crisis.” While I do not believe you need meet personally with the voluntary agencies at this time, their concern will mount, as will press interest, unless we move swiftly to deal with the situation.


In consonance with the humanitarian goals of this Administration, I recommend that you authorize me to request the Attorney General to exercise his parole authority under Section 212(d) (5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act to admit up to 7,000 Indochinese boat refugees over the next 4–6 months pending implementation of the long-term policy. If you approve, I will proceed with my formal letter to the Attorney General with a view toward formally announcing the parole authority before the holidays.4

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Country Chron File, Box 19, Indochina. Limited Official Use.
  2. Not found.
  3. See footnote 5, Document 116.
  4. Carter checked the approve option. He also wrote beneath the paragraph, “Cy—Expedite firm policy. JC.”