President Grants Waiver to Hmong Refugees
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration has decided to grant a waiver for Hmong who provided "material support" to organizations deemed to be terrorist, easing the plight of some but not all Hmong who have been ensnared by federal immigration law.
This week, the Departments of State and Homeland Security announced that the law's provisions will not apply to material support that was provided to certain Hmong and Hmong groups prior to Dec. 31, 2004.
"This will allow Hmong refugees from Laos who are already resettled in the United States to adjust status and become legal permanent residents," the State Department said in a news release this week. "This exemption will also benefit certain individuals outside the United States who would otherwise be inadmissible for having provided material support to Hmong individuals or groups."
The change does not, however, help those Hmong who actually took up arms. Under provisions of the USA Patriot Act and the Real ID Act, the Hmong who fought alongside Americans in the "secret war" against communists in the 1960s and 1970s in Laos are considered "terrorists" -- disqualifying them for asylum or green cards.
Last month, the Senate passed an amendment by Sens. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., that says the Hmong and other groups that had been ensnared by the anti-terrorism laws are not to be considered terrorists. The amendment was part of a larger bill funding foreign aid and U.S. diplomacy, which faces a veto threat over issues unrelated to the Hmong provision.
"While I am pleased with the State Department's decision to exempt certain Hmong from the terrorist classification, a legislative change is still needed to cover those who took up arms and aided our service members," Coleman said in a statement Friday.
"To that end, I worked with my Senate colleagues to include a provision in the foreign operations appropriations bill which will correct this injustice. I am optimistic that this provision will ultimately become the law of the land."
The Hmong began arriving in large numbers during the 1970s, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and there were about 170,000 in the U.S. as of the 2000 U.S. Census, with most settled in California, Minnesota and Wisconsin. A later wave of about 15,000 settled in this country in 2005.
"Finally, the U.S. State Department and Bush administration are beginning to move in the right direction on this issue, but only after the Lao-Hmong community and the U.S. Congress have pressed them and protested this terrible injustice," said Philip Smith, Washington director of Lao Veterans of America, a Hmong advocacy group.
Fred Frommer can be reached at ffrommer(at)ap.org
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)