ARCHIVAL (C-SPAN, 3-24-22):PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Many Ukrainians refugees will, uh, wish to stay in Europe, but we also will welcome 100,000 Ukrainians to the United States.
NARRATION: The U.S. is opening its doors to some of the millions of Ukrainians who have fled their homes to escape the violence of the Russian invasion.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, WORLD NEWS TONIGHT, 2-27-22):NEWS REPORT: The biggest number of people displaced in Europe in the shortest amount of time since World War II.
NARRATION: What obligation does the U.S. have to refugees whose countries have been torn apart by war? Its a question the country has often faced
ARCHIVAL (NBC NEWS, 8-16-21):NEWS REPORT: Afghans are thronging to Kabuls airport.
NARRATION:most recently after a precipitous withdrawal from the war in Afghanistan and the return of the Taliban in August 2021.
ARCHIVAL (PBS NEWSHOUR, 8-20-21):AFGHAN MAN: I have all documents to go to the U.S.! Please!
NARRATION: In the chaotic evacuation of Kabul, priority was given to Afghans who had worked alongside U.S. troops in the decades-long war against terrorism and faced reprisal at the hands of the Taliban like Nemat Ullah Jaghori.
NEMAT ULLAH JAGHORI: I am sure if the Taliban knows that I worked with them, they would kill all of us, my whole family.
NARRATION: As the U.S. takes in families from Afghanistan, and now Ukraine, what can be learned from the experiences of a different set of refugees, who arrived in the U.S. nearly 50 years ago?
CAROLEE TRAN: When I saw the footage of the fall of Kabul, I said, That was us in Saigon in 1975.”
NARRATION: In 1975, Carolee Tran was eight years old and living in Saigon as the Vietnam War finally neared its end.
CAROLEE TRAN: In Vietnam, my family and I were upper-middle class. My father he was a major in the Vietnamese Army. We had a comfortable life.
NARRATION: But all that changed as the army of communist North Vietnam closed in on Saigon and the U.S. pulled out the last of its troops and diplomats.
AMBASSADOR KENNETH M. QUINN (FORMER FOREIGN SERVICE OFFICER, SOUTH VIETNAM): There was this sense of impending doom. Several people said to me, begged me, Please take my children out of the country with you.
NARRATION: People like Carolee Trans father, who had fought alongside American soldiers, were desperate to have their families evacuated to safety.
ARCHIVAL (GETTY, 5-4-75):NEWS REPORT: People, lorries, and cars all chasing one American evacuation convoy after the other.
NARRATION: But American officials, unprepared for such a quick exit, knew they couldnt save all their allies.
KENNETH M. QUINN: Who could be killed, who would be tortured? Who worked to advance our governments interest? So, who do we owe?
ARCHIVAL (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 5-3-75):NEWS REPORT: Saigon, April the 30th, the last American helicopter on the roof of the American embassy prepares to lift off the last evacuees. Scores of people still crowded on the embassy roof in the vain hope of rescue.
NARRATION: As her father stayed in Saigon to fight, Carolee Tran, her mother, and siblings managed to board an American ship off the coast of a nearby island. In the chaos, Carolee got separated from her family.
CAROLEE TRAN: At that point I was alone and I was terrified. And I heard the loudest orchestra of human suffering. People were wailing and crying and screaming. After several hours, I saw my mom from afar. But she didnt look happy to see me. She was in shock.
NARRATION: The Trans were taken first to a refugee camp in Guam, where they were able to reunite with Carolees father. The Ford Administration then waived normal immigration rules and brought them, along with 130,000 other Vietnamese evacuees, to the United States.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 4-10-75):PRESIDENT GERALD FORD: We have a profound moral obligation.
NARRATION: As then-President Ford said, they were allies that the U.S.s withdrawal had put in grave peril.
SERENA PAREKH (PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY, NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY): For Vietnamese refugees in the 70s we have a special responsibility. You break it, you bought it. So, if you break a country, in essence, youre responsible for the refugees who have lost their home, lost their ability to live safely in their home countries because of our actions.
NARRATION: But not everyone welcomed them.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 4-29-75):JERRY BROWN (GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA): When we have a million people out of work. I am slow to open the floodgates and say come on in, unless we can put people to work.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 4-29-75):DAVID BRINKLEY: It appears there is a rising public opposition.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 5-8-75):MAN: I think they have their own problems here in this country.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 6-28-75):REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: Those people can better make an adjustment in their own culture.
CAROLEE TRAN: My father told us, If they cant say your name, they wont think of you as a person. So, my name, which was GiaoUyen, was changed to Carolee.
NARRATION: After some help from a Christian group who sponsored them, the Trans settled in northern California. But they had to fend for themselves in a new culture.
CAROLEE TRAN: There was no English as a Second Language. It was a sink or swim. And the kids were horrible in grade school. They bullied me every single day. I really feel that I was singled out because I was Vietnamese and I was poor. I was poor. And so I got very depressed and very anxious. I began to think about, what if I walked in front of a car so it would run over me?
NARRATION: Carolees parents struggled, too. They could only find low-wage work and had a hard time making ends meet.
CAROLEE TRAN: My father he worked as a janitor. The customers called him horrible racial slurs, told him to go back to his country. Called him a gook, the equivalent of a communist. And for somebody who fought for his country against the communists, it was very upsetting. But that experience gave me the motivation to excel, to go to graduate school, and be a psychologist so I can help other people, other refugees.
NARRATION: Almost 50 years after they fled Vietnam, the Tran family has grown, and are part of a thriving Asian-American community in California. Carolees four siblings all have successful careers: Betty is an engineer; Robbie, a fire captain.
SERENA PAREKH: In the 1970s, if you had just said Vietnamese refugees, people they would have seemed foreign, they would have seemed different, but over time, refugees tend to assimilate very, very well into the United States and be positive contributors in all kinds of wayseconomically, culturally.
CAROLEE TRAN: Ill always feel like a Vietnamese refugee at some level. It is what makes me who I am. And at the same time, I do feel American. Vietnamese-American. Thats how I identify myself.
NEMAT ULLAH JAGHORI (INTRODUCING HIS FAMILY): Shes my wife
NARRATION: Since leaving Afghanistan, the Jaghoris are settling into their new life in Sacramento, California. The kids are in school, and Nemat has a job, but the family is experiencing a bit of sticker shock.
NEMAT ULLAH JAGHORI: The housing is very expensive, and the food is expensive, its not easy in here.
NARRATION: Unlike the Vietnamese refugees, many Afghans arrived under a special visa program for allies, first used during the Iraq War. And since the Refugee Act of 1980, the federal government has set up a more comprehensive system of helping refugees get on their feetand funds local nonprofits to help them find jobs and pay rent.
NEMAT ULLAH JAGHORI: We are very happy to have them. Its very nice being here.
NARRATION: The nonprofits, like World Relief in Sacramento, also provide a kind of cultural help that was lacking in the Vietnam era, including counseling for Afghan girls and women to help them feel safe and navigate their new freedom.
WORLD RELIEF EMPLOYEE: My feeling is joyful!
NARRATION: Perhaps the biggest difference from the Vietnam era: the campaign by veterans and the military to put out the welcome mat.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 6-18-21):MATT ZELLER (NO ONE LEFT BEHIND CO-FOUNDER): Simply put, we couldnt have done our mission in Afghanistan without them.
SERENA PAREKH: There absolutely is more support for Afghan refugees now than there was after the Vietnam crisis.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 7-7-21):REPRESENTATIVE JAKE AUCHINCLOSS (AFGHANISTAN WAR VETERAN): I worked with several interpreters who were with me when we hit IEDs. I made promises personally to them, and I want to keep them.
SERENA PAREKH: My biggest concern is that the sympathy that was generated over the summer with the fall of Kabul that that will evaporate over time and we will again see Afghans as not friends but as foes.
NARRATION: For his part, President Biden has welcomed 76,000 Afghan refugees, many under a fast-track entry program also used for the Vietnamese in the 1970s.
The administration announced plans to use the same program to help Ukrainians who flee the ongoing Russian assault on their country.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 3-6-22):FILIPPO GRANDI (COMMISSIONER, UNHCR): If the war doesnt stop, if cities continue to be bombed, I think that in terms of numbers, it is going to get worse.
ARCHIVAL (CNBC, 3-7-22):REPORTER: We asked this woman how she was feeling. How can we feel? she says, I left our home.
CAROLEE TRAN: Fleeing and leaving our country, we lost everything. But it was because we wanted freedom.
KENNETH M. QUINN: Migrants seeking some kind of hope will never stop moving and fleeing. So, we in the United States have to decide what we will do and to whom outside our borders do we have an obligation. All societies are determined by answering that question. To whom do I have an obligation?