An internally displaced refugee girl
An internally displaced refugee girl from al-Bab, Syria, waits to receive food aid on Jan. 21, 2017 in the northern Aleppo countryside of Syria. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Khalil Ashawi

Vietnamese refugee priest to Trump: Give my citizenship to a Syrian

(RNS) A Catholic priest who fled to the U.S. from war-torn Vietnam as a youth has written to President Trump offering to surrender his American citizenship so that the president could confer it on a Syrian refugee who would be barred under Trump’s controversial order banning travelers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries.

The Rev. Chuong Hoai Nguyen, a member of the Salesian order, also told Trump he would ask his religious superiors for permission to go live and work in one of the seven countries on the banned list.

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“Yes! I am a refugee,” Nguyen, who works with the Vietnamese community in Los Angeles and runs a Catholic youth center there, wrote the president.

“I am an American and I have made America great in my own way for the 42 years since I was granted asylum in this great country. But now, I would like to relinquish my U.S. citizenship and ask that you grant it to a Syrian refugee,” he wrote.

“I am certain that they, like all refugees, will not squander this gift of life. I believe they will also ‘make America great,’ alongside your children and grandchildren.”

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The letter was posted Friday (Feb. 10) on the blog of the Catholic magazine Commonweal by Peter Steinfels, a prominent Catholic intellectual and former New York Times religion columnist. A friend of Steinfels had sent it to him.

The letter was dated Jan. 27, the start of the Vietnamese New Year, a time of hope and celebration, as Nguyen noted.

But it was also the date that Trump signed his executive order barring refugees from the countries as part of what Trump has called a “ban” on Muslims entering the U.S. — a move the president claims will keep the country safe from terrorist attacks.

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Critics have noted that refugees almost never commit terror attacks and that, as CNN reported, “the primary perpetrators of the major terror attacks have mostly been US-born citizens or permanent legal residents originally from countries not included in the ban.”

A federal appeals court also ruled that Trump’s ban was unconstitutional and the administration is reportedly debating whether to take the battle to the Supreme Court or revise the order in hopes it will pass muster with the lower courts.

When Nguyen read about the order, he wrote the president, “My heart and my soul were frozen.”

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Nguyen went on to detail his harrowing journey from Vietnam in 1975, along with hundreds of thousands of other “boat people,” as Communist forces overran the country following the American withdrawal.

Nguyen’s parents put him and his siblings, ranging in age from 6 to 21, on an overcrowded boat with no captain or crew and little food or water. A week later, under escort from U.S. naval forces, they made it to safety in the Philippines. Hundreds of thousands of others drowned trying to make the journey.

“Becoming a refugee is a choice one makes when there are no other options,” Nguyen wrote.

He then recounted how he came to the U.S., became a priest and dedicated himself to building up the nation that gave him and others like him sanctuary.

Now Nguyen says he is ready to yield his citizenship to another refugee, if Trump will allow it.

It was not immediately known whether the White House had responded to the priest’s letter or whether such a citizenship swap would be possible.


  1. A well meant gesture, but hardly practical or necessary. The only practical benefit to arise from Father Nguyen’s plan would arise from his determination to take the Gospel to someplace on the globe where it is presently unknown or misunderstood. This indeed would be a worthy thing.

  2. It seems Father Nguyen’s plan is to teach the Gospels by example.

  3. Can you say “Marxist agitation”? I knew you could! Where was Comrade Rev. Chuong Hoai Nguyen when Obama droned 20,000 in the Mediterranean Sea, and sent Libya and Syria back to the stone age, in the process killing over 400,000!

  4. I don’t know where Rev. Nguyen was during Obama’s reign of terror, Dean, but
    hopefully speaking as forthright as he is doing now. But once we learn to speak for the oppressed, it’s hard to go back, or so it seems from my own experience. Peace, Bob Bossie, SCJ

  5. “Dean, but hopefully speaking as forthright as he is doing now.”

    He’s nothing more than a Marxist agitator. When did the Vatican, or any other Christian denomination, alert the globe to the fake ‘collapse’ of the USSR? That proves the Marxist co-option of the West’s institutions, where in early 1991 the West conspired to not VERIFY the ‘collapse’ of the USSR even though the survival of the West depends on verification should the ‘collapse’ be a ruse, and a ruse it was known to be where Moscow was spewing out false statistics on the bleeding of Soviet Communist Party membership, where in reality Soviet Communist Party membership was INCREASING consistently between 1985 – 1991.

  6. I don’t quite get your tack, Dean, but I was referring to Obama’s drone attacks, etc. which has killed many innocents around the world. For me that is oppression. May you be at peace, Bob

  7. Prior comment rescinded. There was a miscommunication on my end.

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