121. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Vance Memo Re: Indochinese Refugees


In the memorandum at Tab A2 the State Department asks you to establish a longer-term Indochinese refugee policy which would provide for the regular admission of refugees escaping by boat who have no offer of resettlement elsewhere and refugees escaping by land, who are closely associated with the United States. This is estimated to be 25,000 per year for the next few years.

The State Department has come forward with this recommendation in response to a general feeling that we need a more regular and orderly way to deal with the Indochinese problem, rather than waiting until an emergency exists before acting.

The Immigration Subcommittee of the House of Representatives has scheduled hearings on the Eilberg refugee bill for Wednesday, March 1, and administration witnesses are scheduled to testify.

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In essence, you are being asked to approve a policy for Indochinese refugees while the State and Justice Department continue to draft an overall policy affecting other refugees. The Justice Department opposes this approach and feels strongly that:

• A comprehensive policy for all refugees is needed. Moreover, there would be less opposition to admitting Indochinese refugees if linked to a more comprehensive policy including the admission of Soviet Jews.

• The State Department proposes to explore the possibility of introducing legislation to implement their proposal, but any immediate implementation of the policy would be through the Attorney General’s parole power. The Justice Department opposes the continued use of the parole power in situations such as the Indochinese refugees because:

—The parole power was not meant to be exercised for the wholesale relocation of refugees. It was originally established to help certain types of seamen enter the U.S. (e.g., shipwrecked sailors or sailors from Communist vessels jumping ship.)

—There has been increasing Congressional criticism of using the parole power in these situations. Congress has recently insisted on hearings each time the Attorney General consults on the additional use of the parole power. While it is true that Kennedy favors liberal use of the parole authority, Congressman Eilberg and Senator Eastland are strongly opposed.

OMB and the Congressional Relations staff have raised the following concerns:

• The proposal as submitted to you contains no firm recommendation on reimbursing costs to local governments, but simply notes that if past reimbursement levels are continued the cost would be $78 million over a four year period. Failure to reach a decision on reimbursement prior to announcement of the policy would cause serious criticism from affected states.

• It is not clear from the memorandum whether Congress has been adequately consulted. Although there is some support for an expanded and more regular admission policy, there is also some resistance.

There has been considerable agreement between the State and Justice Departments on the principles which are required for a sound refugee policy.

The essence of the remaining disagreement between Justice and State on the overall policy question comes to whether we should support the Eilberg approach of placing some numerical limitations on the normal flow of refugees, or whether we should avoid numerical limits altogether. The differences within the Administration reflect [Page 424] those on the Hill, with the Justice Department in agreement with Eilberg and Eastland that there should be numerical limitations, and the State Department and Senator Kennedy opposing them.

These differences could be quickly brought to a head, and submitted to you for decision.

In light of the above considerations, OMB, the Congressional Relations staff and your Domestic Policy staff feel that you should hold a decision on Indochinese refugees and:

• Ask that the State and Justice Departments develop a comprehensive policy position within 14 days, including a firm recommendation on reimbursement costs to local governments and a frank assessment of probable Congressional reaction.

• Request a continuance of the Judiciary Committee hearing, and, if this proves impossible, present general testimony and return when a decision has been made on a comprehensive policy.3


However, I feel that the Vietnamese issue raises not only moral problems but has become also politically urgent. The New York Times is attacking us editorially for inaction and the Congress is proceeding with hearings which will be quite critical in their direction. Accordingly, I feel you should approve the general approach proposed by Cy Vance, as indicated on page 3 of his memorandum. This approval can then be followed by the development of the comprehensive policy recommended above by the OMB, the Congressional Relations staff and your Domestic Policy staff.

If you agree, please so indicate on page 3 of Vance’s memorandum.

If you do not, please indicate whether the two specific recommendations marked with • are your preferences.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Donated Historical Material, Mondale Papers, Box 83, National Security Issues—Indochinese Refugees [2/24–12/31/78]. Confidential. Carter wrote “C” in the upper right-hand corner of the first page.
  2. Tab A, an undated memorandum from Vance to Carter on Indochinese refugees, is attached but not printed.
  3. Carter circled the two bullet points and wrote his initials in the left-hand margin. Brzezinski conveyed this decision to Vance in a February 28 memorandum. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Agency File, Box 17, State Department (State), 2–3/78)