Hmong leaders urge people to remain calm despite potential deportations

Update: U.S. Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) issued the following statement in response to this issue, “I take these reports very seriously, and I have sent a letter to Secretary of State Pompeo asking him to verify their accuracy and provide more clarity. Thousands of Hmong and Laotian veterans fled to the US in the 1970s after fighting alongside the US in the Vietnam War, and I have personally met with many of these veterans throughout my district in southwest Wisconsin. With ongoing reports of serious human rights abuses in Laos cited in the State Department’s own reports to Congress, I will oppose the Administration moving forward with any plan that threatens to put any of these individuals, or their families, in harm’s way.”

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT)– The U.S. State Department is negotiating with Laos to potentially deport thousands of people. A department spokesperson confirmed to News 8 Now that officials are in talks regarding Lao nationals who are subject to final orders of removal. And, the U.S. government is funding a reintegration program in Laos to help the foreign government fulfill its obligation to accept anyone who is deported.

Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum (DFL-St. Paul) sounded the alarm to this issue in a letter sent to the State Department last week. She said she was strongly opposed to a repatriation agreement, calling it a direct attack on her constituents. The congresswoman said the deportation of Hmong and Lao refugees living in the U.S. would tear families apart while putting people at risk.

This is concerning for people in our area, because of a sizable Hmong and Laotion population. La Crosse County is home to the 7th largest Hmong population in the state, according to the U.S. Census.

“Hmong people actually aided the United States in terms of fighting the secret war in Laos, and many people are here because of that reason,” said Tony Yang, president of the Hmoob Cultural and Community Agency.

Some had families fight alongside American soldiers during the Vietnam War. It’s part of the reason why (WI-D) Senator Tammy Baldwin is concerned.

“This would be a big mistake on the part of the Trump Administration,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin is worried about safety for those who are deported, who might not speak the language or know the culture.

“Many in the Hmong community were actually, have never laid foot in Laos,” Baldwin said.

According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, five people from Laos were removed in 2019. Only 8 were removed in 2018 across the United States.

“I urge the Trump administration to act carefully and judiciously to ensure law-abiding Hmong in the United States legally are treated fairly. The Hmong community is an important part of the fabric of Wisconsin,” said Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), in a statement.

A spokesperson for the Department of State said the U.S. regularly urges partners, like Laos, to accept the return of their nationals under removal orders. But there are no specifics about who might be targeted for removal or when that could happen.

“We don’t know what the proposal entails, in terms of what they’re talking about,” Yang said.

According to Johnson’s office, the order would only apply to non-citizens who have been ordered for removal by an immigration judge, most likely because of a criminal conviction. But this has not been confirmed by the state department. That is why some in the community are urging people to stay calm while they wait for more information.

“I just want the Hmong community to not panic over this,” Yang said.

If anyone is concerned, Yang recommended people call the Hmoob Cultural and Community Agency or contact their U.S. Senators or Representatives.