Hmong and Lao immigrants with standing deportation orders could soon be out of the U.S. as talks between the Trump administration and the government of Laos continue.
The plan, confirmed by federal State Department officials on Monday, first made headlines last week after Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN-4) voiced opposition in a letter to Secretary Mike Pompeo.
I wrote to the @StateDept opposing any repatriation agreement between the U.S. & Laos that would allow long-time Hmong & Lao U.S. residents to be deported. MN’s Hmong-Lao community adds greatly to our state. Deportation would tear families apart. https://t.co/2tVOKXSkGc pic.twitter.com/IW2Vjdb8GR
— Rep. Betty McCollum (@BettyMcCollum04) February 7, 2020
The Trump administration has been putting pressure on Laos to sign a repatriation agreement, a formal arrangement that would streamline the deportation process, according to Minnesota Public Radio.
Many of those with deportation orders reportedly came to the U.S. as refugees. However, some of them have committed crimes that resulted in their arrest and consequently wiped their chance of becoming American citizens.
“I am writing to register my strong opposition to any such repatriation agreement between the U.S. and Laos,” McCollum wrote. “Any deportation of Hmong and Lao refugees residing in the U.S. to Laos will tear families apart while putting those individuals at risk in a country that has never been their home.”
Around 700 Hmong/Lao residents in Minnesota, for one, are at risk of being deported to Laos. There are currently 60,000 Hmong living in the state, while 15,000 Laotians are in the Twin Cities metro.
“They are very concerned,” St. Paul City Council member Dai Thao said, according to Pioneer Press. “They know that President Trump has been unpredictable and is lawless.”
Overall, the move could affect more than 4,500 Hmong and Lao residents. In the past, they had mostly been safe from deportation due to human rights violations committed by the government of Laos.
“Right now Laos is still a Communist country. We had to flee Laos because of being persecuted. And we still have Hmong in Laos still being persecuted today,” said Long Vue, a resident of Appleton in Minnesota’s Swift County, according to the Wisconsin Public Radio. “If the plans of the U.S. government is to send (Hmong residents) back, basically they’ll be persecuted, imprisoned or killed.”
The Embassy of Laos in Washington, D.C. has expressed support in McCollum’s efforts. So far, the government of Laos has resisted any repatriation agreement as it refuses to take in thousands who “have no family” in the country or “do not speak the language,” according to the Star Tribune.
Pompeo last met Lao Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 28.