The group, led by California’s Gov. Jerry Brown, included such liberal luminaries as Delaware’s Democratic Sen. Joe Biden, former presidential “peace candidate” George McGovern, and New York Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman.
The Los Angeles Times reported Brown even attempted to prevent planes carrying Vietnamese refugees from landing at Travis Air Force Base outside San Francisco. About 500 people were arriving each day and eventually 131,000 arrived in the United States between 1975 and 1977.
These people arrived despite protests from liberal Democrats. In 2015, the Los Angeles Times recounted Brown’s ugly attitude, reporting, “Brown has his own checkered history of demagoguery about refugees.”
Back in 1975, millions of South Vietnamese who worked for or supported the U.S. found themselves trapped behind the lines when the communists took over the country. Vietnamese emigre Tung Vu, writing in Northwest Asian Weekly, recalled the hardships the Vietnamese faced in 1975 as they tried to escape the communists.
“After the fall of Saigon, many Vietnamese chose to leave by any means possible, often in small boats. Those who managed to escape pirates, typhoons, and starvation sought safety and a new life in refugee camps,” Tung wrote.
Ironically, Republicans led by former President Gerald Ford were the political figures who fought for the refugees to enter the United States.
Julia Taft, who in 1975 headed up Ford’s Inter-agency Task Force on Indochinese refugee resettlement, told author Larry Engelmann in his book, “Tears Before the Rain: An Oral History of the Fall of South Vietnam,” “The new governor of California, Jerry Brown, was very concerned about refugees settling in his state.”
National Public Radio host Debbie Elliott retraced Brown’s refusal to accept any refugees in a January 2007 interview with Taft. According to a transcript, which was aired on its flagship program, “All Things Considered,” Taft said, “our biggest problem came from California due to Brown.” She called his rejection of Vietnamese refugees “a moral blow.”
At the same time as Brown was fighting Washington, Democrats waged an anti-refugee campaign inside the nation’s capital.
Ford appealed to Congress to quickly help the refugees, who included thousands of Cambodians fleeing a genocidal campaign perpetrated by the communist Cambodian Pol Pot regime.
But in Washington, Ford found himself thwarted by many high-profile Democrats.
Then-Sen. Joe Biden tried to slow down the refugee bill in the Senate, complaining that he needed more details about the quickly unfolding refugee problem before he would support it. He said the White House “had not informed Congress adequately about the number of refugees,” according to the Library of Congress history of the legislation.
Quang X. Pham, who was born in Saigon and later served as a Marine pilot in the Persian Gulf War, later criticized Biden in an op-ed published by the Washington Post on December 30, 2006. Quang wrote, Biden “charged that the [Ford] Administration had not informed Congress adequately about the number of refugees — as if anyone actually knew during the chaotic evacuation.”