130. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance to Vice President Mondale1


  • Initiatives to Help in the Resettlement of Indochinese Refugees

Your interest in the Indochina refugee problem will be of great assistance in meeting the serious problem we face. As you saw during your recent trip to Southeast Asia, the boat case escape rates in the past month have unexpectedly tripled. The program to admit 25,000 Indochinese refugees annually which was recently approved by the President is likely to prove inadequate.

The most immediate assistance which you could render in this situation would be to help in explaining the growing magnitude of the problem and the inadequacy of current measures to deal with it.

We suggest you talk to Griffin Bell, Joe Califano and Jim McIntyre to discuss specific aspects of the program in which their agencies are involved.

In your discussion with Griffin you could:

—Ask him to authorize the parole for 25,000 refugees that the President approved April 6. A call by you to Judge Bell would be useful to impart a sense of urgency in implementing this program. It has been almost six weeks since the President approved it in early April and the number of refugees continues to grow.

—Explain that you understand Griffin’s concerns about the continued use of the parole power by the Attorney General and offer your assistance with key members of Congress in seeking new immigration [Page 451] legislation, but stress the necessity of parole until there is satisfactory legislation.

In your discussion with Jim McIntyre you could stress the importance of obtaining funds for more adequate domestic benefits for Indochinese refugees in this country.

—The present HEW proposal for reimbursement to the states for welfare costs2 falls substantially below what has been done for these refugees in the past and is probably seriously inadequate. Welfare officials from many of those states most involved in resettling refugees would oppose these proposals. I attach a letter Doug Bennet sent on May 15 to Jim on this subject.3 Supplemental authorizations for Fiscal 1978 and 1979 for State Department costs in processing these refugees will only get through both Appropriations Committees if key committee members are assured that domestic benefits for the refugees will be sufficient.

You could also alert Jim to the problems we are having with the voluntary agencies which resettle refugees in this country.

—One of the principal obstacles to faster VOLAG action is the decrease in federal support (down from $500 to $350 per refugee despite inflation) they have had to absorb since 1975. Since the President has already completed action on all the supplemental appropriations for 1978 and 1979, all that can be done over the short-term is reprogramming funds if any can be found in other programs. Even reprogramming would reduce the total number of refugees which could be processed, thus forcing us to seek a further supplement in Fiscal 1979.

In talking with Joe, your expression of continuing interest in the Indochinese refugee issue will be quite helpful.

HEW has not given high-level attention to this issue in the recent past, although it was the primary action agency in the big 1975 resettlement program. I would appreciate it if you could make the same point about the necessity for adequate domestic benefits for the Indochinese refugees. HEW has the machinery for dealing with the individual states while State has none. I recommend that State and HEW form a special working group to coordinate their efforts and position themselves to work closely with the Voluntary Agencies. This is very important.

You have indicated a desire to meet with the Voluntary Agencies which have been working with Indochinese refugees. I feel this is an excellent idea but would recommend that you meet with the VOLAGS only after you have talked with the President and the above-mentioned cabinet officers and have clearer ideas on how to answer their questions. [Page 452] In June you could then meet with the Coalition for the Effective Resettlement of Indochinese Refugees, the core group composed of state welfare officials from key refugee states and officials from some of the VOLAGS. We meet with them weekly and a word from you would certainly inspire greater efforts.

We are also exploring reopening one of the temporary facilities used during the massive 1975–76 evacuation and resettlement program, in an effort to alleviate pressure on Thailand, Malaysia and Australia. We do not need your assistance but you ought to know that Wake Island, with a capacity for 8,000 refugees, is a possibility if we determine it will accelerate substantially the removal of refugees from the camps and we can find the funds. (Wake Island offers fewer political problems than Guam.) Other improvements in existing procedures are also being considered in an effort to speed up processing of refugees by State and INS, and the location of sponsors by the VOLAGS.

We are also following very closely the particular problems of over 100,000 Lao and Cambodian refugees residing in Thailand. You were briefed on the terrible conditions of the camps in Thailand in which these refugees reside and the conditions inside Laos and Cambodia to which they have no hope of returning. The atrocities in Cambodia, in particular, have aroused widespread public and Congressional concern. Several weeks ago Leo Cherne of the International Rescue Committee called for a special one-shot parole for the 15,000 Cambodian refugees in Thailand. This idea has generated support from black and labor leaders and should elicit Congressional sympathy. While I recognize that a further parole request at this time is a sensitive issue, nevertheless I am sure your recent first-hand exposure to the problem of Indochinese refugees convinces you of the necessity for continued U.S. concern.

We will keep you posted on developments as they occur.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Donated Historical Materials, Mondale Papers, Box 83, National Security Issues—Indochinese Refugees [2/24-12/31/78]. Confidential. Printed from an unsigned copy.
  2. Not found.
  3. Not attached.