Local family torn apart by war and immigration process unite after more than 40 years

Ai Nguyen is finally reunited with his sisters, An and Noc, after spending 47 years apart.

Endless paperwork, constant attempts to cut through the federal red tape, and decades of waiting are over for the Nguyen family.

Ai Nguyen has fought for almost half a century to get his two sisters in Vietnam legal citizenship statuses.

KATU News has been following Nguyen's story for the past year.

In November, he and his lawyer, Kim Le of Waxler & Le Immigration Law, LLC, were in the process of petitioning for his two sisters, An and Ngoc, to legally emigrate from Vietnam to the U.S.

He hasn't seen them in person since they were teenagers.

When Nguyen was old enough, he enlisted in the U.S Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. Thirty years later, both his parents and an unwed sister immigrated to the United States as refugees. An and Ngoc were married, so by law, they had to stay behind.

Nguyen's mother, Loan Thi Tran, petitioned for her daughters in 2000, but died three years into the process. Then their father took over, which added another decade to the wait. However, when he died, the sisters got pushed, again, to the back of the line. Under the current law, that's what happens when a sponsor dies.

According to Le, the way things stand now, there's no way of knowing where you are in line.

"You don't know how long you're actually waiting. Every time is a guestimate," she said.

Nguyen started petitioning for his sisters in 2014, but at this point, they've already lost 17 years to the process. But time and time again, the system failed Ai and his family.

KATU's original story gained the attention of U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici. In April, she helped set the plans in motion.

"We helped, pleading with immigration, to reopen the case and put him -- let him step into the place where his father was in that long line," said Bonamici. "Forty-seven years is unacceptable."

An and Ngoc were one step closer to reuniting with their brother on U.S. soil.

They found out they got their visas approved Monday, and booked their first flight to America for Thursday.

Early that morning, Nguyen, his wife, daughter, grandchildren, and his younger brother anxiously gathered inside a nearly empty Portland International Airport, waiting for the reunion that has been 47 years in the making.

"It's like time stands still," said Nguyen. "You can't sleep, you can't eat, and it's the beginning of the unknown."

All those years turned into months, then it became weeks, then hours, and all that waiting boiled down to the final moments waiting at the gate.

An and Ngoc, along with her husband and son, finally reunited with Nguyen and suddenly, this airport didn’t seem so empty anymore.

"I'm very emotional. I don't know what to say right now. It's not sinking in. I know it's real, but there's no word for it," said Nguyen.

"The vast majority of cases don't have these happy endings -- very, very difficult, so that's why this is particularly rewarding," said Le. "Don't lose faith, keep fighting, keep hoping. Don't give up."

After the airport reunion, the siblings gathered at their parents' gravesite in Portland, fulfilling their mother and father's final wish to see their children together again.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off