Hao Nguyen, a 2003 graduate of Luther, and her husband, Dan Hanson. (Submitted photo)
Hao Nguyen, a 2003 graduate of Luther, and her husband, Dan Hanson. (Submitted photo)
A 2003 Luther graduate is facing deportation due to a clerical in her graduate student visa status.

Hoa Nguyen and her husband, Dan Hanson '03, are asking the Luther/Decorah community for their help in this.

A press release from www.freehoa.org posted on the Luther College Web site in support of her plight, said Nguyen "has an outstanding academic record, is a summa cum laude graduate from both Luther and the University of Minnesota, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, speaks three languages, holds a masters degree in French Literature, teaches undergraduates at the U of M, and is a loving wife, sister, daughter and friend."

For more than a month, Nguyen has been a detainee of the U.S. government awaiting deportation to Vietnam.

"It's a case of immigration law punishing the wrong person: model citizen and student, married in a Minneapolis court room to a U.S. citizen, who now faces the prospect of a prolonged forced separation from her husband because of a clerical error," said the posting.

The problem

Nguyen, 29, has lived in the U.S. for the past 10 years on student visas. She was studying for the doctoral degree at the University of Minnesota.

Hoa and Dan Nguyen married in November 2008, and traveled to Vietnam in January 2009 for a wedding celebration among family and friends. Upon returning to the U.S., Hoa was stopped by immigration authorities and notified that her student visa status had changed. While she worked to resolve her case, she failed to make an appointed court date in August.

In defense of his wife, Dan said the mistake was a simple mistake.

"Hoa thought the date was Aug. 23, when it was actually Aug. 13," explained Dan.

The day after missing her court appearance, while Hoa was alone at their Minneapolis home, four immigration officers arrived, shackled her and took her to Shelburne County Jail, where she has been detained for the past six weeks.

Dan hired a legal team to file a motion to have his wife's case re-opened, but an immigration judge denied the motion Sept. 22. Many Luther faculty and staff have offered to help.

With his wife facing deportation, and the possibility of not being able to re-enter the U.S. for as long as five years, Dan has made the difficult decision to take the couple's fight to remain together into the public arena. He has reached out to family members, friends, former classmates and work colleagues, and is spearheading an organized effort to get Congressional leaders to take notice of the couple's case and intervene in the deportation proceedings.

The couple admits their court date mistake, but feel being forced apart for years is an overly unfair consequence. Supporters of Hoa have also expressed their dismay in letters, e-mails and phone calls about a system that labels a decorated scholar and active community member a criminal.

About Nguyen

While at Luther, Nguyen was on the dean's list all four years, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated summa cum laude with degrees in French and Business. She was a Preus scholarship recipient (the college's most prestigious academic scholarship), the recipient of Luther's international student award, the winner of an outstanding undergraduate research paper from the Midwestern Academy for Religion, and the recipient of the Henry O. Talley award for business.

She helped pay for her education by serving as a resident assistant, and by working in the library and the registrar's office.

"The intent of the law is not to punish people like my wife and me," Dan said. "Honest people, making efforts to live upstanding lives. The punishment does not fit the crime. How are we to begin a family now, with five years of separation between us?"

Updated information about the case and the couple's story can be found at freehoa.org. Dan may also be reached by telephone, (612) 655-4961, or e-mail, hansda@gmail.com.

The couple have already spent between $5,000 and $10,000 on legal fees and are seeking donations to help cover additional costs.