The Trump administration appears to be ramping up talks with the Lao government to deport thousands of Hmong and Lao Americans back to Laos, according to Minnesota U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, who called the proposal "unconscionable" in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
"Any repatriation agreement resulting in the deportation of Hmong-Lao community members will be viewed as a direct attack on my constituents and their family members," McCollum, a Democrat, said in her Monday letter.
The potential repatriation would affect more than 4,500 Hmong and Lao people who did not become U.S. citizens and who have committed crimes or have deportation orders against them, according to several Asian-American advocacy groups.
Pompeo met with Lao Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 28, according to a release from a State Department spokesperson.
Bo Thao-Urabe, executive and network director of the St. Paul-based Coalition of Asian-American Leaders, wrote a letter to McCollum on Jan. 27 saying the proposal would affect about 700 Southeast Asian Minnesotans. She urged McCollum to write to Pompeo.
"Minnesota is home to nearly 100,000 Hmong and Laotians," Thao-Urabe said. "If a repatriation agreement between the U.S. and Laos is signed, it will have a devastating impact on hundreds of families and perhaps thousands of individuals related to those families in our state."
The Embassy of Laos in Washington, D.C., supports McCollum's efforts, said Bill Harper, the congresswoman's chief of staff. Harper noted that the Lao government has so far resisted any repatriation agreement because it does not want to take in thousands of people, many of whom "have no family" there and "don't speak the language."
"The pressure's on, and we're trying to make sure that her voice is heard and that the community has the ability to advocate on behalf of relatives, family members who may be in this situation," Harper said.
Ryan Faircloth • 612-673-4234 Twitter: @ryanfaircloth