September 30, 2023

As Hmong and Laotian Americans prepare to mark the 45th anniversary of refugee resettlement to America in May 2020, instead of embracing and celebrating our unique stories, the Trump administration quite ironically is aggressively pursuing secret talks with the government of Laos to secure a repatriation agreement to deport 4,700 Hmong and Lao residents with final orders of removal from the United States.

Unlike his predecessors, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama, Donald J. Trump is using heavy-handed tactics to remove Hmong and Laotian residents who might have committed minor offenses in their past but had paid their dues and already served time. Hmong and Laotian are not criminal aliens and they are not immigrants to begin with but they are refugee children of Hmong and Lao veterans whose immigration status, i.e. I-94 and Green Cards were stripped off by immigration officials when they committed offenses which denied their pathway towards citizenship in this country. 

Deporting Hmong and Laotian residents back to Laos not only tear families apart but it is an insult and betrayal to the more than 35,000 soldiers of Hmong descent, who were killed during the war in Laos from 1960-1975. Hmong and many Laotian served under the pre-1975 Royal Lao Government, and they were American friends during the Secret War in Laos. Many of those who served under the Military Region III and IV were assigned to interdict the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) supply lines along the Ho Chi Minh trails bypass Laos onto South Vietnam and Cambodia throughout the Vietnam War. 

The irregular forces under the Royal Lao Army were trained by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Thai PARU (Border Patrol Aerial Reinforcement Units) and their roles were to assist U.S. operations in Laos, including rescuing and recovering American servicemen/pilots. And so, they risked their lives so willingly without asking for political affiliation if the Hmong should only pick and choose to rescue and recover a Republican pilot or a Democrat pilot but they rescued and recovered all American servicemen/pilots. As the war in Lao dragged on, the Hmong and Laotian soldiers of the special forces of the Royal Lao Army paid terrible prices with heavy losses of lives. 

Arthur Dommen, Jr., a senior scholar of Laos, wrote “Among the sorriest of the exiles were the Hmong, who were virtually destroyed as a significant ethnic group as a result of the years of warfare, dislocation, and, finally, a determined extermination campaign mounted against them.” 

When the United States withdrew from South Vietnam on 30 April 1975, thousands of South Vietnamese refugees, Cambodians, Hmong and Laotian refugees were streaming across the Mekong River onto Thailand and the majority were resettled to the United States. 

Today the United States is home to more than 300,000 Hmong and nearly 270,000 Laotian. Hmong and Laotian Americans are resilient community members who have contributed immeasurably to the success of the U.S. economy as entrepreneurs, high-tech engineers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, soldiers, police officers, politicians, farmers, and factory workers. Deporting our people back to where they had fled persecution and retribution is wrong and immoral.

The government of Laos continues to rank very low of the world index on human rights abuse, including arbitrary arrests and forced disappearance.  The Trump administration needs to honor our history and cease from deporting Hmong and Laotian back to Laos.  The Hmong and Laotian did not choose to come to America first, but it was the Americans who stepped on their land first.

Kou Yang
Professor Emeritus, California State University, Stanislaus