120. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Tarnoff) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Indochinese Refugees

The Department has continued efforts to maintain a strong international response to the problem with particular emphasis on maintaining resettlement offers at the highest possible level. We expect that the international community will permanently resettle in 1978 a total of almost 18,000 refugees from camps in Thailand and other countries of temporary safehaven.

We have continued discussions with the Congress on the most appropriate means for accepting Indochinese on a continuing basis. The Eilberg bill2 is one possibility. A revised Department position on the bill is being discussed with relevant executive agencies. If a new executive position can be developed and agreed to by Eilberg and the Subcommittee, the bill might be a means of admitting Indochinese. On the basis of discussions we have had with the Subcommittee staff, they appear to be reconsidering some key aspects. Unless and until legislation is actually passed, parole remains the most practical means of admitting Indochinese.

Further thoughts on the longer range including suggestions about defining a national refugee policy for all groups are incorporated in the attached paper.3

Peter Tarnoff4
Executive Secretary
[Page 417]


Paper Prepared in the Department of State5

The Status of National Policy On Indochinese Refugees

The Department of State has continued to review the Indochinese refugee situation along the lines recommended in Dr. Brzezinski’s memorandum of November 9, and has taken certain steps suggested therein to deal with this situation. In terms of the interim program suggested in the referenced memorandum, the following actions have been taken:

(1) We have made a continuing, strong, and partially successful effort to maintain and increase the degree of international participation in assistance to Indochinese refugees. In the multilateral sphere, we have obtained resolutions in the Executive Committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Council of the Intergovernmental Committee on European Migration (ICEM). We have also raised the subject in the NATO Council meeting. We have made a large number of bilateral approaches, including visits by American officials to Paris, Ottawa, Geneva and most Southeast Asian capitals. These approaches included a visit to Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries by Assistant Secretary of State Patricia Derian, who also stressed the importance of strong UNHCR attention to this problem to the new High Commissioner Poul Hartling in Geneva.6

International participation in resettlement of Indochinese refugees is actually substantially better than is generally understood. Leaving aside the initial evacuation and its aftermath in the summer and fall of 1975, the record for the last two years has seen a total of 74,000 Indochinese resettled; 31,000 in the United States and 43,000 in third countries, not including Thailand.

The bulk of this resettlement has been accounted for by the programs of France, Australia, and Canada. All three have active ongoing programs and both Australia and Canada have recently made fresh commitments to assist these refugees. We estimate that resettlement in third countries in 1978 will accommodate over 18,000 refugees.

[Page 418]

(2) We have also found it necessary to deal with the emergency created by the sharp increase in the numbers of refugees leaving by boat; with the President’s approval, the Secretary of State recommended that the Attorney General parole an additional 7,000 “boat” refugees into the U.S. This authorization was granted on January 25 following a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Immigration on January 24.7 This parole was intended to deal only with the immediate emergency—to buy a few months time during which we expect to discuss longer term policy with the Congress.

(3) We have continued to attempt to establish reliable estimates of escape rates for Indochinese refugees over the next few years but this has proven most difficult. Our best judgement is that these refugees will continue to leave Indochina at least at present levels over the next year or so and their numbers may increase somewhat, though probably not greatly. It seems clear that the process of excluding the former Vietnamese middle class from participation in the life of the nation will continue to be a major impetus in maintaining the rate of escape. Former members of this class find it very difficult to obtain permission to work and many survive by selling their possessions, a process that only provides relief for a limited time. In addition, it is increasingly plain that not only are these individuals branded as “class enemies” and permanently disadvantaged in the new society, but also their children and children’s children. Countering this strong pressure on large numbers to leave are the active efforts of the Vietnamese government to prevent such departure; it is plain that this outflow is embarrassing to Hanoi. Increasingly, we hear of heavy prison sentences for those attempting escape.

A straight line projection of escape rates of the past six months would forecast an annual outflow of about 18,000 “boat” refugees and about 26,000 refugees escaping by land. The number of these that might be taken into the United States would depend on the nature of the commitment made to these refugees.

The Interagency Task Force report8 recommended that the commitment of the U.S. Government to assist Indochinese refugees be expressed not in terms of numbers but in terms of classes of refugees. It further recommended that these classes of refugees be:

—refugees escaping by boat and with no other offer of resettlement, and

—refugees escaping by land who meet the criteria established in previous programs.

[Page 419]

Of the 18,000 escaping by boat, we hope that approximately one third will be accepted by third countries, leaving about 12,000 boat refugees needing resettlement opportunities in the United States. Of the refugees escaping by land, our experience has been that about one third, or 12,000–14,000, meet the criteria established in previous programs for acceptance into the United States; i.e., close relatives in the United States, former employment with the United States Government, or other close association with the United States.

Thus, a projection of past experience would provide a total of about 12,000 “boat” refugees and 12–14,000 refugees escaping by land for a total of 24–26,000 Indochinese refugees annually which we would need to accept into the United States. This total for all three countries is somewhat less than the number that entered the United States under normal immigration procedures annually from single countries such as Korea or the Philippines.

(4) In relative terms, therefore, the number involved is not very considerable. The problem has been that there is no provision for such a continuing flow of refugees under the present Immigration and Nationality Act except for continued resort to the Attorney General’s parole authority. Not only has this situation been the subject of criticism by some Congressmen but also it has been most unsatisfactory because it has required us to wait until we faced a serious emergency before acting. The results of utilizing the parole have been quite discouraging. Some lives have been lost. Though we have been very generous in our final response, increasingly our public image, both here and abroad, has become one of very grudging acceptance of these refugees. The uncertainty of our program leaves countries of first asylum fearful that they will have to absorb the refugees themselves and, unwilling to do that, they grow more hostile towards accepting refugees on even a temporary basis.

The need, therefore, is clearly to establish longer term, more orderly and predictable programs and procedures. Our goal in assisting these refugees could quite easily and efficiently be met by a more open-ended use of the Attorney General’s parole power with advance consultation on refugees expected over the coming year. This would be the type solution favored by Senator Kennedy. It is, however, anathema to some members of Congress, including Congressman Eilberg, Chairman of the key House Subcommittee on Immigration. Congressman Eilberg has introduced his own bill providing refugee legislation which would codify present procedures on the group admission of refugees as well as adding some additional features of his own. The Department has reviewed this bill within the framework of the future admission of a continuing flow of refugees of special concern to the United States. Such refugees would include those from the Soviet Union and Eastern [Page 420] Europeans as well as Indochinese. We have made recommendation to OMB regarding acceptance of the Eilberg bill with minor (but important) amendments and are awaiting OMB’s approval at this time. Congressman Eilberg has scheduled hearings on his bill, H.R. 7175, on February 22. The Administration needs to complete a review of the bill as soon as possible in order to allow the bill to move forward with Administration support during this session of Congress if it is found acceptable.

(5) The Department has also begun informal consultations with the Congress to try to resolve the question of what authority should be used in admitting Indochinese in the future and which Indochinese refugees should be the beneficiaries of a commitment by the United States Government. The Department believes that it is exceptionally important to try to bring this matter to a conclusion as rapidly as possible. The longer it drags on, the more views on the appropriate handling of this problem polarize between those who think we have done enough and those who believe our commitment should be broader. If we can reach agreement on a long term program relatively quickly and structure it in such a fashion that the future implementation of the program is seen as within the broader context of overall United States efforts to assist refugees, we will meet the desires of most of the proponents of refugee assistance with minimum aggravation to those opposing such a program. Congressman Eilberg intends to question us about long term policy at the February 22 hearing. As Assistant Secretary Derian noted during the January 24 hearing before Eilberg on the parole of 7,000 “boat” refugees, that parole would only buy about three months time, during which a long term policy needs to be agreed upon. Otherwise, circumstances will probably force us to go to the Congress once again with an emergency parole request for a further short term respite.

(6) The Department has also begun a review of overall refugee programs.9 In each of the following aspects of refugee policy, it is important to move in the direction of a more uniform policy. Whatever legal authorization is used to admit refugees of special concern to the U.S., these arrangements should include all such groups and not only Indochinese refugees. The options outlined in the InterAgency Task Force report or a revised Eilberg bill could be used to accomplish the objective of uniform treatment of such refugees. In terms of payment of resettlement grants to voluntary agencies, we should also seek uniformity as soon as possible once the outlines of a future program becomes clear. A supplemental appropriation to the 1978 Migration [Page 421] and Refugee Assistance budget would make it possible to integrate Indochinese and other refugee programs in this respect. Finally there is a requirement to review the appropriate level of domestic support to be extended to additional Indochinese refugees. This is, of course, a matter to be coordinated with HEW. We note, however, that PL 95–145 passed in 1977 extended reimbursement to the States for welfare expenses incurred for the resettlement of Indochinese refugees on the following basis:

FY 78–100%; FY 79–75%; FY 80–50%; and FY 81–25%. Thereafter the Federal Government does not reimburse any of the States’ shares of domestic assistance because the alien came as an Indochinese refugee but only provides assistance on the same basis as to other citizens and residents of the United States.

Some form of continuing assistance to States to meet costs incurred as a result of continuing flow of refugees would seem appropriate. The Department believes, however, that we should seek to provide such assistance to States on a uniform basis for all refugees. At present, there are, in addition to the Indochinese program, a special program of assistance to Cuban refugees, as well as an Administration proposal for FY 79 for additional assistance to voluntary agencies for the resettlement of refugees other than Indochinese or Cubans. A priority concern, therefore, should be to attempt to develop such a uniform method of providing domestic benefits to refugees. The goal should be to seek such uniformity in the FY 1980 budget cycle.

In view of the above, the Department of State proposes to proceed along the following lines:

(a) While implementing the new parole for 7,000 boat refugees, we will coordinate closely with other countries and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees so that maximum utilization can be made of third country resettlement programs. We will continue to vigorously press for international participation, recognizing, however, that substantial increases above present levels are not likely.

(b) We will continue consultations with the Congress to seek agreement on a future commitment to Indochinese refugees defined in terms of classes as follows:

—refugees escaping by boat who do not have offers of resettlement opportunities elsewhere, and

—refugees escaping by land, who meet the agreed upon criteria of close association with the United States.

(c) We will also consult with the Congress on appropriate authorities for the admission of such groups of refugees.

(d) We will continue to seek agreement within the Administration on a more forthcoming position towards the Eilberg refugee bill in the [Page 422] hope that it might provide an acceptable framework for dealing with this problem. But we should be prepared to admit refugees under the parole authority until any legislative mechanism is passed.

(e) We will coordinate with HEW to seek to develop a more uniform policy for the resettlement and provision of domestic benefits to all refugees accepted into the United States.10

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 51, Refugees, 1–12/78. Limited Official Use.
  2. See footnote 5, Document 116.
  3. Also attached was a copy of Document 116.
  4. Wisner signed for Tarnoff above Tarnoff’s typed signature.
  5. Limited Official Use.
  6. Derian’s trip to Southeast Asia took place January 7–18. She stopped in Geneva January 19–20 before returning to Washington.
  7. For Derian’s January 24 statement before the Subcommittee, see Department of State Bulletin, March 1978, pp. 33–35.
  8. See Documents 114 and 115.
  9. Reference is to PD–30; see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. II, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, Document 119.
  10. An Estimated Annual Indochinese Refugee Outflow chart is attached but not printed.