It was Dec. 5, 1975, when the first Hmong family settled in the Twin Cities. In the spring of 1976, my family relocated to Pepin, Wis., and in the summer of 1978 we moved to the McDonough Projects in St. Paul. I was 12 years old when we arrived. Today, there are approximately 84,000 Hmong and 13,000 Laotian people who call Minnesota home.
For those who may not know, under the leadership of General Vang Pao, the Hmong fought for freedom alongside the United States in Laos during the Vietnam War. When American troops withdrew, Hmong people were targeted for extermination by the Communists who took control of the Laotian government. We were forced to flee to Thailand as refugees.
Improving bilateral relations with foreign governments is something that should be a priority for every federal government official. The news that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met last month with Saleumxay Kommasith, Laos’ foreign minister, shows that the current administration takes this matter seriously.
This brings me to Rep. Betty McCollum’s Feb. 3 letter to Secretary Pompeo regarding deportation of Hmong and Laotian people back into Laos. The agreement the congresswoman complains of only impacts roughly 4,700 people who have lost their legal deportation battle to remain in the United States. (“Halt Hmong deportation plans,” editorial, Feb. 16.)
However, McCollum’s letter did not distinguish these deportable noncitizens from the law-abiding ones. It was reckless and irresponsible for McCollum to release her letter for that reason. This has caused unnecessary fear and anguish within the Hmong community.
Under immigration law, certain criminal acts committed by a noncitizen will render them deportable. The grounds for deportability can be found in the Immigration and Nationality Act Section 237. Additionally, any noncitizen who is convicted of an aggravated felony at any time after admission is deportable.
As an immigration attorney, I know this is what is currently going on with Hmong and Lao nationals who are facing deportation. More important, deportation proceedings have long been going on against Hmong and Laotian people who have committed deportable crimes and have lost their immigration-court battles against removal.
According to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), since the congresswoman was first elected in 2001, 3,753 people have been deported to Laos. Of that total, 1,426 deportations occurred during President Barack Obama’s tenure and only 275 during the current administration.
Yet we haven’t heard about the congresswoman objecting to deportation of Lao or Hmong nationals living in America until now.
I have experienced firsthand how deportation tears up families and shatters dreams. I also understand the fear that people feel because of what happened in the past. At the same time, we have to recognize that we are bound by laws we must follow. It breaks my heart to see deportations happen.
The timing of McCollum’s letter to Pompeo, in light of her not having done anything on this issue for the last 20 years, is extremely suspect. It came just two months after I announced that I was going to challenge her in the upcoming election. She is trying to incite needless fear into the hearts of the Asian-American community by intentionally distorting United States policy for her political purposes.
This is disingenuous to the Hmong and Laotian communities, which have supported her for many years.
If the congresswoman cared about Hmong and Lao deportation, she would have taken action on this much sooner. Now that she has a Hmong-American political opponent, she has finally decided to introduce legislation to stop deportations for those who have committed felony deportable offenses in America.
I appreciate the good that is America. When I look back to see how many Hmong and Laotian people have made the United States and Minnesota their home, and how large and successful the community has grown, I have a deep gratitude for what we have. We truly are fortunate to be here.
The Fourth District would be better served if we had a member of Congress who addressed jobs and the economy, health care, student loans and education, instead of one who creates an international incident because of the ethnicity of her opponent.
Sia Lo, of Vadnais Heights, is an attorney and a Republican candidate for Congress in Minnesota’s Fourth District.