Boat person to high U.S. official

News Stories, 15 August 2001

As a 10-year-old, he spent 12 days aboard an overcrowded and leaking boat with virtually no food or water. As the craft reached Malaysia, it was met with a fusillade of gunfire and turned back into the South China Sea. At night, the boy's mother stayed aboard and "wielding an axe that was almost as tall as she was, put a hole in the side of the boat to sink it so they would not be forced back to sea."

The Vietnamese family eventually landed, wended their way through a tortuous life of refugee camps and seeking asylum, but eventually ended up in the United States. But misfortune continued to follow them. They began afresh in Portland, Oregon, picking strawberries, but when the Mount St. Helens volcano erupted in 1980, it again wiped out their livelihood.

Those hardships were forgotten recently when the young boy, Viet D.Dinh, now a successful lawyer, was sworn in as the U.S. Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy, responsible for the planning, development and co-ordination of major legal policy initiatives.

After arriving in the U.S., Viet Dinh attended Harvard Law School, became a law clerk for federal and Supreme Court judges, a Special Counsel and Professor of Law and Deputy Director of Asian Law and Policy Studies at Georgetown University Law Center.

"I am really enamoured by the institutions of government," Dinh said. They protect the most precious aspect of America the promise of opportunity and freedom. Even when I was in the refugee camp, I knew the value of this promise." Attorney General John Ashcroft said of the former Vietnamese refugee, "He will bring invaluable perspective and intellect to our pursuit of justice."