The Trump administration is negotiating with the Lao government to allow for the deportation of thousands of Hmong and Lao Americans back to Laos, according to Minnesota U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum. Credit: Sahan Journal

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Advocates warn that a Trump administration proposal to deport thousands of Hmong and Lao Americans back to Laos could be detrimental to families in Minnesota.

Community advocates say the proposal would affect about 4,700 Hmong and Lao people nationwide who never became United States citizens. Those affected include those who have committed crimes and have deportation orders issued against them.

The Trump administration is negotiating with the Lao government to allow for the deportation, according to Minnesota U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum.

McCollum, a DFLer, wrote a letter Monday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo opposing the plan, saying it would be “unconscionable to deport individuals to any country in which the U.S. knowingly puts them at risk.”

McCollum’s office has received numerous requests to take urgent action against the negotiations, said her chief of staff, Bill Harper.

“Laos does not want to sign the agreement,” Harper said. “They don’t want these individuals sent back to their country, and in part because most of these individuals have not lived in Laos for decades.”

Sia Her, executive director of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, said it’s unclear how many people in the state would be affected. She said the plan would tear apart families, not to mention burden them financially if a parent were deported. Her added that many individuals have already have served prison terms.

“Many of them will have built a family and lived in communities for decades now,” Her said.

McCollum noted in her letter that Minnesota is home to tens of thousands of Hmong and Lao veterans of the Vietnam War-era conflict, naturalized U.S. citizens who were refugees from Laos and legal residents who never received citizenship.

The Twin Cities is home to the largest urban Hmong concentration in America — with about 82,000 people of Hmong ancestry residing in Minnesota. About 17,800 Lao Americans call the state home, according to estimates by Minnesota Compass.

“This is a strong and vibrant community that contributes immeasurably to the success of Minnesota’s economy and our quality of life,” McCollom wrote. “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.”

Riham Feshir

Riham Feshir is a senior reporter at MPR News covering race, class and communities. Feshir is the co-creator of 74 Seconds, an innovative podcast that covered the first-ever trial of a Minnesota police...