By: Allison Piette, the Pointer
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Laos in late January, discussing the potential deportation of more than 4,500 Hmong and Lao refugees. However, deportation could mean potential persecution for some of the refugees.
Over the past two decades, the U.S. started deportation proceedings in court against almost 5,000 Lao citizens. While courts are not required to report, many of the citizens are Hmong.
Hmong refugees came to the U.S. to escape possible imprisonment and death. Most refugees partnered with the U.S. in the Vietnam War.
The refugees affected are green card holders, meaning they are legal residents, but not naturalized citizens. Most of those affected have committed crimes or have deportation orders against them for different reasons.
Wisconsin has the third-largest Hmong population in the country. According to Governor Tony Evers, hundreds of Hmong people in Wisconsin could be affected by the deportations.
State Representative for Stevens Point and surrounding cities Katrina Shankland said in a statement to The Pointer, “I am deeply concerned about the Trump administration’s discussions with the Laotian government to potentially sign a repatriation agreement. Under previous administrations, this was not a consideration, given the Laotian government’s long, dark, and troubling history and treatment of Hmong people.”
The State Department is reportedly asking Laos to accept more deportees, and has offered assistance to fund a reintegration program in Laos. The Trump administration has been able to negotiate a similar agreement with Cambodia, increasing deportations to Vietnam since 2018
In 2019, five U.S. residents were deported back to Laos. In 2018, seven were deported.
Ashley Thao, President of Rotaract, Vice President of the Hmong and South East Asian Club, and Treasurer of the Sociology and Social Work Organization, said, ” Laos is not our home. Hmong people are heavily discriminated there because of the war. Many have abandoned their Hmong language and culture to fit in there. When we arrived here it took us a long time to accustom to American culture and many are still struggling. Some Hmong people still face persecution back in Laos. If they go back, they will be killed or sent to jail. This is quickly becoming a human’s right issue.”
Additionally, Shankland and 35 other legislative co-signers sent a joint letter to the Wisconsin Congressional Delegation. The letter was also sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Within the letter, it reads, “While we understand the importance of improving U.S. relationships abroad, human rights conditions in Laos raise serious questions about the safety and well-being of deportees. It is utterly reprehensible for the U.S. to knowingly deport people to any country in which they are at risk of harm. Furthermore, no person who had to flee their country should be told as a refugee that they must leave yet again.”
Cia Siab Vang, student at UW-Stevens Point, said, ” It’s important for us to talk about the impacts this agreement will have on children. Many people who have final deportation orders has children my age . What I’ve seen is that it’s effecting their school work and mental health, they’re afraid for their loved ones. The agreement between the U.S and Lao government will tear families apart.”
Since the report first broke, the Trump administration has released very few details about the negotiations with Laos, and has not given an exact number of U.S. residents at risk of deportation.