Officials say more than 300 Hmong, Lao in Wisconsin might face deportation under reported negotiations

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- The Hmong community in the Wausau area is on edge after reports that the Trump Administration is in talks with Laos to allow deportation of non-naturalized Hmong immigrants who are under removal orders in the United States.

The Hmong American Center, Inc. in Wausau (WSAW Photo)

Minnesota U.S. representative Betty McCollum addressed a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on February 3, saying she’d heard reports of the negotiations. The State Department has confirmed the deportation talks between the U.S. and Laos to both Minnesota and Wisconsin Public Radio. The Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans noted that “to the best of their knowledge”, the potential repatriation agreement would not affect legal permanent Hmong and Lao American residents.

Wisconsin has a Hmong population of about 50,000 according to 2010 US Census data. Immigration data from the Syracuse University TRAC Immigration project appears to show that more than 300 immigrants from Laos, which would include Hmong, are currently under removal orders in the Chicago immigrant court that includes the Wisconsin jurisdiction. At least 250 of those people have lived in the US for at least 10 years, according to the project data. Hmong American Center executive director Yee Leng Xiong says it’s likely nearly all are from Wisconsin due to Illinois not having a significant Hmong community.

"[The Hmong community] are scared. They're terrified of what's happening," Xiong noted. "But most importantly, they want to know the truth."

More than 5,600 Hmong reside in Marathon County according to the 2010 census, the highest population center for Hmong in Wisconsin outside of Milwaukee County. The largest population center for Hmong in the United States is the Twin Cities area. And while the number of Hmong that could be deported appears to be relatively small, Xiong says that the ripple effect on the clans would be devastating.

“By deporting one individual, it’s going to have a ripple effect among the whole entire clan system,” Xiong noted. “You could be tearing a son away from a mother, a daughter away from their parents.”

The Hmong came to the United States as refugees because of their role in helping the United States in the Vietnam War. As a result of their assistance, they faced persecution from the Communist government in Laos. Today, Xiong says they would face that same threat if deported.

“These individuals that are here were not here because of their own choice; they had to be here in order to escape death,” Xiong said. “If they were to be sent back, most likely these individuals will be killed or sent to some sort of reeducation camp.”

Ultimately, Xiong says the community is waiting on the State Department to clarify the negotiations.

"I urge the Trump administration to act carefully and judiciously to ensure law-abiding Hmong in the United States legally are treated fairly," Republican Sen. Ron Johnson said in a statement to NewsChannel 7. "The Hmong community is an important part of the fabric of Wisconsin.”

Democrat Senator Tammy Baldwin said, “There is a long and dark history of human rights violations by the Communist government of Laos against the Hmong and I am deeply concerned that the Trump administration would tear families apart in Wisconsin and target Hmong and Lao refugees residing in our state. Wisconsin has a special bond with the Hmong community and it is my hope that this administration will stop its plan to break this bond with my constituents.”