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Remarks on Signing Into Law Bills Concerning Indochina Refugees and Prisoner Transfers With Mexico and Canada

October 28, 1977

THE PRESIDENT. Good morning, everybody.

This is one of those days and one of those occasions when our Nation puts its best foot forward. One of the most difficult things for a strong and proud country to do is to acknowledge its own commitment to a difficult political principle like the one of human fights.

It's easy for us to preach to other countries, to criticize South Africa, to criticize Czechoslovakia, to be concerned about Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and to talk about prisoners in Chile. But when it comes down to our own Nation, we are so proud of our past achievements that quite often it's hard for us to acknowledge our own needs for compassion.

I doubt if any other group of refugees in my lifetime have been so devastated by war than those from Vietnam and Laos, Cambodia. And it's been a very controversial thing domestically to have people come into our country who don't know the language, who are not, at the time they come, self-sufficient, and who, when they receive language training and vocational training and education and job placement, compete for scarce jobs.

But the Congress again has shown that we are a great nation, not just militarily and economically but in our commitment to principles.

This bill from the House, number 7769, acknowledges our gratitude and also our debt, also our commitment to a better life for the refugees who have been here for a number of months, even years, from Southeast Asia and those who have come just this year. It permits the granting to them of additional opportunity for language training, for vocational training, for basic education principles, for counseling, for job placement.

It also gives them legal resident alien status which they can obtain after they have been here 2 years. Most of them have already been here that long and became eligible for citizenship.

I think this is a great step forward. Although the citizenship procedures take 5 years, it puts them on an equal basis with others who come to our country with renewed hope for their lives.

I'm very glad, also, that this provides us with a means, at some significant expense to the Federal Treasury, to help State and local governments, who have been bearing an inordinate financial responsibility for these refugees. And now it puts it on a firm financial basis so that there can be an assurance, leading up to an ultimate conclusion of this program as these people are assimilated into our society, that they will be cared for properly.

So, it's with a great deal of pleasure that I sign this bill, House of Representatives bill 7769, that provides human rights to the refugees from Southeast Asia.

I particularly want to thank those in the Congress behind me who worked so hard on this. I won't try to name them all, but I'm very grateful to them. And I believe that this exemplifies, in a fine spirit, what our country stands for.

[At this point, the President signed H.R. 7769 into law.]

I think before I ask some of the Congress Members to say a word that I'll cover the other bill as well. It has the same general tone, but kind of a mirror image. This bill carries out the principles of treaties with our closest neighbors and allies, Canada and Mexico. And we have the Ambassadors here from those countries to take part in this ceremony.

We have about 2,000 American prisoners incarcerated in foreign lands. Historically we've had an arrangement with the Scandinavian countries that when we have their prisoners in our jails or when they have our prisoners in their jails, that we exchange those American citizens and their citizens. And now we are extending this principle to Mexico and also to Canada.

We have 575 Americans in Mexican prisons, and we have 250 Americans in Canadian prisons. And after negotiating these treaties, we now have implemented that process legally by which these prisoners might be exchanged.

If they so desire, Mexican and Canadian prisoners in our jails can go back to their own lands to serve out their terms, and vice versa concerning our own American citizens in Mexican and Canadian prisons.

I think this is a major step forward. It indicates a compatibility between our own country and our neighbors. It shows that we have a respect for their judicial system, the fairness of their courts, and the trial processes. It also, I think, will be contributory toward better rehabilitation.

I think it's always easier for someone who is in prison in their own land to have closer connections with their peer groups and with their neighbors, with those who love them, with their future potential employers, so that they can work harder toward a rehabilitation effort.

Of course, in Mexico, for instance, there is no opportunity for parole for good service in prison. When these young men and women mostly come back to our land, then they'll be given that opportunity if they perform well and demonstrate their own rehabilitation.

So, I'm very grateful that we have passed this Senate bill 1682 which carries out the provisions of the treaties already signed with Canada and Mexico. And we will commence an immediate exchange of prisoners after this legislation is signed today.

Again, I want to congratulate the Members of Congress who have been so effective in getting this legislation passed.

[At this point, the President signed S. 1682 into law.]

Well, congratulations, all of you, and thank you.

Pete, would you like to say a word?

REPRESENTATIVE RODINO. Mr. President, my colleagues, and my friends:

Let me say that this marks, as the President has stated so eloquently, another expression of America's commitment to human rights and a deep commitment indeed to justice. And more importantly, I think it is an expression of the American people's willingness to carry out the great concepts of this country and to be understanding and to be compassionate, even though sometimes we have got to bear a bigger burden.

I congratulate the President for his leadership, and the members of my committee for the work they did, and all of those who together brought this about.

Thank you very much, Mr. President.


REPRESENTATIVE EILBERG. Mr. President, I want to thank you very much for the opportunity to be here. It's pleasure enough just to be here at the bill signing, but to be called upon to say a few words is something that I will remember all the rest of my life.

I want to say that without the leadership of Peter Rodino, without the subcommittee that we have, without the extreme support of a totally dedicated staff--and it's really there that the credit belongs--that this wonderful legislation, both pieces, would not be before us today.

I hope that the world really takes note of what we're doing here, because I think once again the United States is doing a wonderful thing, showing the world what should be done, what can be done in a humanitarian way. And I hope other nations will respond in similar ways. Thank you, Mr. President.


SENATOR SPARKMAN. Well, Mr. President, I can only echo what these others have said. I think it is a great day.

With reference to the treaties involving the same matters, I think I'm correct in saying that every one of them passed through the Senate with a unanimous vote.

THE PRESIDENT. I hope all the rest of the treaties that you face will do the same thing. [Laughter]

SENATOR SPARKMAN. Well, we'll have to wait a little while on some of those. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much. Thank you very much, sir.

SENATOR KENNEDY. I too want to join in congratulating the President in the leadership that he has shown in terms of pointing the way for the American people to meet its responsibilities to the 115,000 people that have come from Southeast Asia and have joined the American people.

This is an extraordinary act of continuing generosity. It's a great tribute to the voluntary agencies, the church agencies, which represent all the great faiths of this country, who have worked so hard with local communities to help to provide a new opportunity for these citizens to join with our fellow citizens.

As the President understands, there still remains a problem--some 15,000 additional boat cases that homes are going to have to be found for. And so, as we're mindful of this continued step forward that will provide for language training, for counseling, for job training, will help and assist local communities, help and assist States, we're mindful of our continuing responsibility.

Mr. President, I think, as you know, the employment rates among the Vietnamese refugees are about a half of what it is for other Americans. These men and women who have come to this country, have shown their commitment to the ideals of this Nation, their willingness to participate in our country, and I think we ought to recognize their contribution as well.

I congratulate you on your leadership and congratulate the Members of the Congress in responding to what is in our great tradition as a humanitarian nation.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Senator. I won't call on others, but I know that you recognize that Frank Church and Joe Biden and Pete Stark and Hamilton Fish and many others here have done a great deal of work on this legislation.

I'm very proud of all of you. It's a good day for our country. And I believe that this will indicate to the American people, who always have some concern about the impact of refugees, that as a nation we ought to open our arms and open our hearts to these fine men and women, courageous men and women who have lost their homes because they formed a partnership with us and because they formed ties of kinship and brotherhood and sisterhood with us for a common purpose, that is, human freedoms.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 9:30 a.m. at the signing ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House.

As enacted, H.R. 7769 is Public Law 95-145, and S. 1682 is Public Law 95-144, approved October 28.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks on Signing Into Law Bills Concerning Indochina Refugees and Prisoner Transfers With Mexico and Canada Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/242381

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