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A Journey to a Better Life: USCIS Officer Bao Dinh’s Story

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Immigration Services Officer Bao Dinh is always ready to offer help and advice to anyone who has a question about their case. Like many USCIS employees, Dinh is an immigrant and a naturalized U.S. citizen. However, few people who meet and work with this soft-spoken man can imagine the hardship and danger that was a part of much of his early life.

Dinh grew up and lived in Saigon during the height of the Vietnam War. As a young man, he graduated from the National Institute of Administration, a preparatory school for civil servants. Dinh soon took a job with the government of South Vietnam, which assigned him to assist people in rural areas. Traveling between Saigon and the war-torn countryside, Dinh had many close calls. Shelling and shootings by communist guerillas occurred on a daily basis. He remembers his house being damaged by a mortar round. Fortunately, he was not home at the time.

Shortly after the capture of Saigon by North Vietnam in 1975, Dinh was arrested and sent to a “re-education” concentration camp where he was held as a political prisoner and forced to labor in state-run rice fields and coconut plantations for six years. After his release in 1981, he returned to his home in Saigon, but the government attempted to exile him to the countryside. They told him that he was not welcome in the city and repeatedly harassed his family. He and his wife decided to keep their home in Saigon, but twice they paid smugglers to help them escape Vietnam. Each time, storms forced the boat to turn back. The cost of the escape attempts also depleted Dinh’s finances, and he began to lose hope of a better life in another land.

In March 1991, Dinh was finally able to leave Vietnam as a refugee to the United States through a program to assist political prisoners. He was very excited and relieved to escape a life of peril, oppression and harassment. When Dinh arrived in California, he worked several jobs and earned an associate degree. After working as a clerk, he applied for a job opening in 2002 with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (the predecessor of USCIS). Dinh was hired, and has since been promoted several times.

Bao Dinh (right, standing) discusses the naturalization process with members of the Vietnamese community in February, 2013
Bao Dinh (right, standing) discusses the naturalization process with members of the Vietnamese community in February, 2013 

Today, Dinh helps other immigrants who have questions about immigration benefits or their case status. He also recently participated in a Vietnamese-language outreach program called “Giao Tiep,” which informs and educates Vietnamese speakers on what is required to become a U.S. citizen. After traveling a perilous and difficult path in life, he is proud to assist other immigrants seeking a better life in the United States.