WAUSAU, Wis. (WAOW) -- Wisconsin Democrats, 7th Congressional District candidates, a local mayoral candidate and a Hmong leader all spoke on growing fears around possible Hmong deportation.
Hmong people came to Wisconsin in the 1970's as refugees, after fighting alongside the U.S. in the Vietnam war.
When did fears of Hmong deportation rise?
Democratic Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum first drew attention to a potential increase in deportations through a letter addressed to State Secretary Mike Pompeo. Wherein, she details her opposition to an alleged agreement between the Trump administration and Lao People's Democratic Republic to export long-time Hmong and Lao residents back to Laos.
The State Department has not confirmed that talks covered deportation
According to a release from the State Department, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo met with Lao Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith in late January. The release did not mention talks of deportation.
News 9 reached out to a State Department Spokesperson who did not confirm the Congresswoman's remarks but said: "The U.S. government’s position remains that every country has an international legal obligation to accept all of its nationals whom another country seeks to remove, expel, or deport."
The spokesperson furthered that the U.S. Government if funding a reintegration program for people deported to Laos after living in the U.S. for an extended period of time. Additionally, "The U.S. and Lao governments are in constant dialogue regarding Lao nationals who are subject to final orders of removal."
Wisconsin Democrats Respond
In a letter to Congress, released on Thursday, Wisconsin Democrats detailed their, "vehement opposition" to the deportation of Hmong and Lao people to Laos. The letter describes the impact of deportation, saying it will tear families apart and create rifts in our communities."
4,500 people would be at risk of deportation
According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data research and data distribution organization at Syracuse University, about 4,700 Hmong or Laotian U.S. residents have received final orders of deportation since 1998.
In that same time, only 220 of those residents have been deported.
That leaves about 4,500 people to further establish their lives in America.
Wausau leaders speak out
A crowd gathered in front of the Hmong Veterans Memorial in Wausau on Thursday to address the controversy.
Ka Lo, the first Hmong woman elected to the Marathon County Board, pushed to gather support for her community. "Be a voice," she said. "Be an advocate to victims of this policy."
Lo also took a moment to speak in Hmong and told individuals impacted that they can reach out to her directly.
Second to speak was Wausau mayoral candidate Katie Rosenberg, who said her focus was not on politics but people. She shared the story of a teenager who was scared of her family's future. Rosenberg noted the teen was crying, unable to concentrate in class, and felt alone in this.
Rosenberg commented, "you are not alone," and pushed those impacted to reach out to Freedom, Inc. out of Madison for additional resources.
7th Congressional District Candidates take different sides
Last to speak at the event, with signs of her namesake waving around her, was Wausau School Board President Tricia Zunker.
"These are individuals who came here as refugees or served alongside our military," said Zunker, a Democratic candidate for the 7th congressional District seat. They not only should be here, they deserve to be here. This is their home."
Zunker then challenged her Republican opponents to join her, standing in support of the Hmong community.
News 9 reached out to the Republican candidates, here are their responses:
"It's sad to potentially see families torn apart, but I have full confidence in the Trump administration, our State Department, secretary [Michael] Pompeo, to work with the laotian administration to get this resolved..."Captain Jason Church
“The Hmong people are a valuable part of Central Wisconsin.Their strong work ethic adds to our community. As an ally of President Trump, I will work to ensure he understands the value of the hard-working, law-abiding Hmong people in Wisconsin..."Representative Tom Tiffany
At the time this article was written, there is no official word on a new agreement between the Trump Administration and Lao People's Democratic Republic.
If plans for additional Hmong deportations begin or are announced, we will update you here on waow.com.