SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) - The arrest of Binh Thai Luc for five murders in San Francisco's Ingleside District has focused both local and nationwide attention on U.S. immigration and deportation policies. Questions over why Luc was not deported after he served prison time for violent crimes in the past have arisen in political circles from San Francisco City Hall to the United States Congress.
One legal expert said the issue goes back decades. "The problem with Mr. Luc goes back to the fact that he's from Vietnam," said USF Law Professor Bill Hing. "It goes back, believe it or not, to the Vietnam War."
Hing explained that up until six years ago, Vietnam did not commonly issue travel documents for its former citizens that the United States wanted to send home, even those that had been convicted of a violent crime or those that were in the United States illegally.
"Because we were not on great terms with Vietnam," said Hing. "We could not automatically send someone back to that country. They have to agree to accept those individuals."
Vietnam also had to issue the individuals faced with deportation Vietnamese passports, which Vietnam was reluctant to do for refugees that had fled the country's communist regime.
In 2006, Vietnam began allowing citizens back into the country but only if those individuals had left before 1995. Hing said that is because the Hanoi "feels that they are products of the United States, that they entered here as infants and toddlers and that they grew up here and that their criminality has little to do with them being Vietnamese."
As for Luc's release from custody after he had served his sentence, Hing sited the Supreme Court's 11-year-old ruling that immigrants cannot be held indefinitely while waiting for their deportation travel documents. The court ruled that after 180 days, the convicted individuals have to be given a chance to show that they have rehabilitated for their crimes.
Hing also said that he feels there will be pressure now for Vietnam to issue travel documents to its citizens awaiting deportation in the United States, and to issue those documents quickly.
To date, Hing said the United States releases 4000 immigrants each year after those individuals have served prison time. That number comprises individuals from a wide range of countries, not just Vietnam.
(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
for more features.