Grieving Mother Holds One Last Wish for Son
Thursday, February 9, 2006
A weeping Kim-Hoan Thi Nguyen kissed her 7-year-old son goodbye at the Ho Chi Minh airport and told him it would be a long time before they would be together again. Little Binh Le boarded the plane and flew off to the States, where his mother hoped he would flourish. It was 1991.
She next saw Le when he visited Vietnam at 12. He cooked her french fries.
He visited again when he was 18 and a recent graduate of Edison High School in Fairfax County. They had a party.
Their next reunion came in December 2004. At his funeral, at Arlington National Cemetery.
Le, a Marine corporal and a Vietnamese citizen, was killed at age 20 while defending his desert base in Iraq. The month after his death, he was awarded U.S. citizenship in a ceremony at which speakers lauded his valor.
Nguyen, who has lived with a friend in Springfield since the funeral, wants to stay. Wracked with guilt that she sent her only child off to a life that was cut short, she wants only to lay flowers on his grave each Sunday. Yet, although parents of immigrants killed in combat are eligible for permanent residency, Nguyen's applications have been denied.
The reason: She and Le's father gave up their son for adoption to an aunt and uncle so he could emigrate with them.
"I lost my son for many years, and I do not want to lose him again," Nguyen, 48, said yesterday through an interpreter. She said her visitor's visa will expire in December.
Nguyen said the adoption consisted of a handwritten piece of paper -- signed by the two couples and a neighbor acting as a witness. Lawyers who have helped her and Lien Van Tran, Le's father, apply for permanent residency say the adoption was never official, a conclusion supported after an investigation by a lawyer in Vietnam.
But to U.S. immigration authorities, Le benefited from the adoption -- legal or not -- by coming to the United States as the son of his aunt and uncle. Le's birth parents, therefore, cannot benefit from their relationship to him, according to a denial Nguyen received from the Board of Immigration Appeals.
Relatives said Le dreamed of becoming a U.S. citizen and helping his parents, who later divorced, gain citizenship. Le was raised by his adoptive parents, Hau Luu and Thanh Le of Alexandria, and another aunt and uncle in Woodbridge. "That was probably one of the things that he wanted most, was for them to come over and live with him," said cousin David La, 15. "That was his dream."
U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) found their case so compelling that he filed a private bill in Congress last February that would grant permanent residency to Nguyen, Tran, their new spouses and Tran's daughter. But it has been stuck in committee since March.