Wisconsin’s Hmong community, politicians push back against federal deportation negotiations
More than 4,500 Hmong and Lao people could be at risk of deportation after a new proposal by the Trump Administration. Politicians like U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minnesota, spoke out against this decision.Image By: Courtesy of USDA- Preston Keres
Amid reports the Trump administration is in negotiations with Laos regarding the deportation of certain Hmong and Lao residents from the U.S., Hmong communities in Wisconsin are pushing back.
In late January, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Lao foreign minister Saleumxay Kommasith where administration began negotiating a plan for the deportation of longtime Lao and Hmong residents across the country.
If passed, the repatriation effort would affect more than 4,500 non-citizen Hmong and Lao people who have committed crimes or deportation orders against them.
On Feb. 3, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum wrote a letter to Pompeo opposing the negotiations, calling the proposal “unconscionable.”
“Any repatriation agreement resulting in the deportation of Hmong-Lao community members will be viewed as a direct attack on my constituents and their family members,” McCollum wrote in the letter.
The Hmong community in Wisconsin and politicians in areas with Hmong populations also spoke out against the recent proposal.
Many Hmong residents first came to the U.S. in the 1970s as refugees from the Vietnam War. Laos was not safe for the Hmong then and, according to Long Vue, executive director of a nationwide coalition of Hmong associations, it is not safe for them now.
“We still have Hmong in Laos still being persecuted today,” Vue told WPR. “Basically they’ll be persecuted, imprisoned or killed.”
According to the U.S. Census, there are about 49,000 Hmong people living in Wisconsin — the majority of whom are U.S. citizens.
Many of the Hmong residents who would be sent back to Laos have no family there and don’t speak the country’s native language.
Bill Harper, Rep. McCollum’s chief of staff, said the Lao government has resisted any repatriation agreement because it does not want to receive thousands of people, especially those who will have a hard time melding into society.
Zac Vang, a member of the Hmong Madison group, said the lack of family ties, combined with the chance of being deported to a dangerous country their families were forced to flee, is a big reason for concern around the proposal by the Trump administration.
“We came here as refugees, not necessarily immigrants,” Vang said. “[People] could actually be killed or put into camps that are like prisons [in Laos].”
Thomas Nelson, the county executive of Outagamie County, sent a letter to Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, to try to protect his Hmong constituents. Nelson said the news sent shockwaves through the Hmong community and feels the U.S. must continue their policy of supporting the group, which dates back to the Vietnam Era.
The Hmong volunteered to help the U.S. in the Secret War in Vietnam in the 1970s against communist rule in Laos, where many risked their lives both during the fighting and upon attempting to flee the country, the Hmong Club at UW-Platteville said.
The U.S.’ aid in resettling generations of Hmong in America is one reason why Nelson wrote to Johnson urging him to address the proposal.
“We had an obligation then and we have an obligation now to support and protect them,” Nelson wrote.
If the proposal continues, many Hmong leaders are calling for political action.
“The Hmong community will come out and vote in this election if [the proposal] does go through, and they will remember it,” said Yee Leng Xiong, director of the Hmong American Center in Wausau.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter