The Orderly Departure Program from Vietnam, which has been the subject of recent letters to the editor (Rebecca Nguyen, May 28 and Sen. Edward Kennedy, June 8), is understandably a subject of considerable interest to tens of thousands of people in the United States.
According to the American Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, where the United States administers this program, more than 600,000 files have been created for people in Vietnam who have family members or other close ties to the United States. Practically every Vietnamese person I know here in the United States, including my own family, has loved ones who remain in Vietnam, many separated for more than 12 years.
For these broken families, the Orderly Departure Program has offered hope for eventual reunification. Since 1980, more than 50,000 people, most with relatives here, have been able to exit Vietnam and come to the United States through this program.
Sen. Kennedy, who was instrumental in making this humanitarian program a reality, argues in his letter that the backlog of 20,000 applications was the result of a breakdown in processing because "the government of Vietnam began to issue exit visas to large numbers of persons in none of the categories for whom the program was designed." A report published by voluntary agencies working with refugees appears to contradict Sen. Kennedy's assertions as to the nature of this backlog. The report, "The Orderly Departure Program: The Need for Reassessment" (November 1986), indicates that the backlog was made up of persons who appeared to meet eligibility criteria, but that the United States was becoming more selective in its acceptance of these cases. The report points to several specific examples of increasing restrictiveness in U.S. processing criteria that have served to exacerbate the backlog problem.
Without question, the government of Vietnam should be called to task for reneging on its offer to release political prisoners. At the same time, however, the United States must better demonstrate its commitment to family reunification. NGUYEN THI VIET-HANG Lanham