WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- On Thursday, community leaders and political candidates denounced US immigration policies and raised awareness for resources for Hmong facing potential deportation in north central Wisconsin.
Marathon Co. District 5 supervisor, Ka Lo, attends press conference on Hmong deportation reports, Feb. 13, 2020 (WSAW Photo)
The State Department has confirmed funding of a reintegration program in Laos for foreign-born Laotians who are deported back to Laos but do not speak the language or have friends and family there. That confirmation, in combination with reports of verbal agreements between the US State department and the Laos government to increase deportations of Hmong and Laos individuals who are already under removal orders, has prompted widespread concern among the Wisconsin Hmong community and national advocacy organizations.
Last year, five people were deported to Laos according to the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), and a total of 219 have been deported since 1998—in comparison to more than 4,500 Hmong and Laotian people currently under removal orders in the country. Leaders fear that the agreement will significantly increase the number of people being deported back to a country where they could face persecution under the Communist government in Laos.
“The United States has had decades of failed immigration policies, and this is one of them,” Marathon County District 5 supervisor Ka Lo said at a press conference Thursday. “Policies that rip American communities and families apart have no part in the American lexicon.”
Wausau officials, including Marathon County supervisor and Wausau mayoral candidate Katie Rosenberg and Democrat 7th Congressional candidate and Wausau School board president Tricia Zunker, are encouraging Hmong who are concerned to reach out to non-profit organizations like Freedom, Inc. for resources or legal help if they are concerned the policy shift will impact themselves or their families.
“These failed American policies have spread unnecessary rumors and fear among our communities,” Ka Lo said. “I have a message for my community—for our community. We are going to get through this together. You will not be alone.”
Lo said that citizens or legal permanent residents who have previous criminal records for which they have already served time may have also been contacted by state or federal officials. For those people, Lo recommends they also reach out to immigration lawyers or groups like Freedom, Inc. In Portage and Marathon Counties, Lo estimates that she has heard of close to a dozen residents who might be under removal orders.
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. 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.
In Wisconsin, Chai Moua with the Freedom, Inc. organization says they’ve heard from or know personally roughly 100 people under final removal orders who have contacted the organization since the deportation reports started. Freedom, Inc. is planning to host pop-up legal clinics with immigration attorneys around the state for those impacted, and recommends people under removal orders contact their organization for more help.
“We understand that many of our brothers and sisters who have final orders, they have turned their lives around, they have contributed to our communities, helped our communities grow,” Moua said. “They deserve a second chance.”
The Hmong first arrived in the United States after the Vietnam War as political refugees, because of persecution under the Communist government in Laos. Hmong provided crucial support to U.S. troops during the war, including helping rescue downed American pilots. As a result of their efforts, they faced reprisal from the Laotian government and ultimately arrived as refugees in the US.
“These individuals that are here were not here because of their own choice; they had to be here in order to escape death,” Hmong American Center executive director Yee Leng Xiong told NewsChannel 7 earlier this week. Moua noted that it’s unclear right now what those deported to Laos would face once they arrived in the country.
“If you are Hmong or Lao and received a deportation notice and you are scared that this action will affect you or your family, you are not alone,” Rosenberg said Thursday. “There are organizations to help you.”
Statements from Congressional Candidates
"The Hmong community are a critical part of the fabric of our community. Trump’s latest proposal is inhumane and cruel. Families should not live in fear of being torn apart. I urge my Republican opponents to join me and stand in support of our Hmong community. This is not a partisan issue, this is a human rights issue. And for anyone who received a deportation notice, please contact me directly and I will do my best to help you navigate through this." --Tricia Zunker (D)
“Our immigration system is broken and it’s because career politicians have failed to solve the problem, putting families and lives at risk. We need a fighter in Washington DC who will stand with President Trump to build the wall and fix our legal immigration system.” –Jason Church (R)
“The Hmong people are a valuable part of Central Wisconsin. Their strong work ethic adds to our community. As an ally of President Trump, I will work to ensure he understands the value of the hard-working, law-abiding Hmong people in Wisconsin. Immigrants should come to America legally, and when they come, they should abide by our laws. President Trump wants to ensure our communities are safe, and I stand by that goal. ” — Sen. Tom Tiffany (R)