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Deciding who gets to leave a war-torn country to start a new life in the U.S.

Alison Krupnick on an early trip to Ho Chi Minh City, circa 1989.
Courtesy of Alison Krupnick
Alison Krupnick on an early trip to Ho Chi Minh City, circa 1989.


This story originally aired on October 19, 2019. 


The Vietnam War officially ended in 1973, but people continued to flee the country well into the 1980s. Hundreds of thousands of people escaped the country on boats. Thousands died at sea. It was an international humanitarian crisis. The men, women and children fleeing were called boat people.


“After the Vietnam War, people in South Vietnam who had supported the United States presence and war effort, you know, they were treated like the enemy,” said Alison Krupnick, who lives in Seattle.


Today, Krupnick is a marketing and communications director for a nonprofit focused on equity and education. In the late 1980s, Krupnick was a young, ambitious foreign service worker for the U.S. State Department.


“I was certainly idealistic, the way you are when you're in your 20s. I was arrogant," Krupnick said. "You know I think when you are young like that, for me, the world was a really positive place. Change was going to happen, positive change was going to happen and I really wanted to be a part of that change.”


Krupnick was a part of a multi-country effort headed by the United Nations called the Orderly Departure Program, or ODP. She worked in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Her job was to interview people to determine whether or not they’d be approved for resettlement in the United States.


The one group of Vietnamese that had guaranteed entry into the U.S. was Amerasians. These were the children of U.S. servicemen and Vietnamese women.


“Amerasians are children of these servicemen who looked different and were treated badly,” Krupnick said.


In this story, Alison Krupnick talks about the difficult work of determining who got to go to the United States and who was denied entry.


Whether it’s looking back at past U.S. immigration policy or how policies are being carried out today, Krupnick said that whoever is trying to gain entry into the U.S. should not be mistreated: “Because if we lose our humanity, we lose everything.”


Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.

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