U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum has vowed to introduce legislation next week to head off the deportation of former Hmong and Lao refugees after receiving a letter from the U.S. State Department that confirms the Trump administration is negotiating with Laos to accept them.
"I am certain Democrats in Congress will stand proudly with our Hmong and Lao communities to stop President Trump from moving forward with his dangerous deportation policy," McCollum, a St. Paul Democrat, said in a statement Wednesday.
The U.S. is negotiating with Laos to sign a repatriation agreement that would allow the deportation of 4,716 noncitizen Hmong and Lao residents nationwide who face deportation orders that are largely based on older criminal convictions. The U.S. government classifies Laos as "recalcitrant" for failing to accept return of the nationals.
"This administration takes seriously its responsibility to ensure that U.S. laws are respected within our borders," wrote Mary Taylor, assistant secretary of the State Department's Bureau of Legislative Affairs, in response to a Feb. 3 letter from McCollum. "Consequently, the U.S. government regularly urges foreign governments … to abide by their international obligation to accept the return of their nationals that are subject to a final order of removal."
The Hmong served as U.S. allies in the "secret war" fighting Communist forces in Laos during the Vietnam War and began arriving in the U.S. as refugees in the 1970s. Immigration advocates have raised concerns about the danger Hmong deportees could face in Laos, but Tyler responded that the Lao nationals, before receiving their final orders of removal, can seek protection from persecution or torture there under international law.
"The Lao government's refusal to enter into an agreement with the Trump administration is the only obstacle preventing massive deportations from our Hmong and Lao communities," McCollum said.