(FOX 9) - Hundreds of Hmong and Lao people living in Minnesota could be at risk of deportation if a new Trump administration proposal goes through.
The proposal would apply to people who are not U.S. citizens and already have standing orders of deportation against them, but immigration advocates argue many of these people came here as refugees and never had the resources to become citizens.
They also have no connection to Southeast Asia; Minnesota is the only home they know.
"Many of them have become productive members in their communities and within their families and now to hear that there is active negotiations that are intended to deport them I think raises a lot of concern," argued Executive Director of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders Bo Thao-Urabe.
Thao-Urabe is a fierce advocate for the more than 80,000 Hmong and Lao people in Minnesota. As news spreads within their community that the State Department has entered into a contract with Laos to help facilitate the deportation of long-term residents back to the country, she is trying to calm people's fears.
Representative Betty McCollum has already intervened and, on Thursday, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith fired off this letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging direct updates on the situation.
Many of the people targeted came to America as refugees and some committed crimes resulting in final deportation orders.
"There are a lot of cases these are young people who made mistakes and because their parents were not citizens they were not citizens yet and then they couldn’t become citizens because they were under the age of 18," said Thao-Urabe.
At the Immigration Law Center of Minnesota, they are trying to reach out to the 700 or so Minnesota residents who could be affected by this proposal.
In past administrations, this group of people were not a priority for the government to deport but the move could rip families apart indefinitely.
"A lot of these individuals probably had no idea that they could in fact be deported," said Veena Iyer, who is the executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota.. "They came here because they were refugees. They were persecuted in their home countries. They had cooperated with the United States and they believed that they had a final life here."
A local spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement says there is nothing new about the U.S. government deporting non-citizens after they have been convicted of a crime, regardless of how long they've been guests in the U.S.
Statement from Congresswoman Betty McCollum
“I believe it is the intention of the Trump administration to pursue the deportation of all 4,700 Hmong and Lao individuals with a Final Order of Removal. The only obstacle preventing them from deporting these individuals is the Lao government’s refusal to sign a repatriation agreement with the U.S. and receive the deportees. Ironically, it is the Lao government – despite its substandard human rights record – and the fact that the overwhelming majority of the individuals in question were refugees fleeing persecution in Laos that’s keeping families together in Minnesota and elsewhere, while the Trump administration is try to tear them apart. This is an extremely difficult situation for many of my constituents, who are an integral part of our community in the Fourth District.”
Statement from Congresswoman Ilhan Omar
“I have been monitoring this situation carefully—and will do everything I can to stand up to this President on behalf of our Lao community and Hmong community. There is constant assault and insult from this Administration on immigrant communities and everyone should take precautions to stay safe. That said, it is important to note that there is still a lot more we don’t know than that we do, and nothing is yet in effect. This President wants immigrant communities to panic and live in fear. But we will not let him intimidate us.”
Statement from Congressman Tom Emmer
“At this time there is no public information that suggests there is a change in policy at either the State Department or the Department of Homeland Security. I will continue to monitor the situation and have been in touch with both departments as well as the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans regarding any updates.”