Wisconsin bishops urge Trump to limit deportation of Hmong, Laotian refugees

MADISON — On Sept. 27, the church celebrates World Day for Migrants and Refugees. In recognizing the unique contributions of immigrants and refugees, the Catholic bishops of Wisconsin sent a letter to President Donald Trump and other administration officials acknowledging the special contribution of Hmong and Lao refugees.

The letter, dated Sept. 18, was issued by the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, the state bishops’ public policy arm, and signed by the bishops of all five Wisconsin dioceses. Their letter was written in response to an earlier letter, dated Feb. 14, 2020, and written by the U.S. Department of State.

In the Feb. 14 letter, the State Department acknowledged ongoing negotiations with the government of Laos to accept deported Hmong and other Lao U.S. residents. The bishops of Wisconsin have asked the president to end these negotiations.

“We understand,” the bishops wrote, “that legal residents may be deported if they have committed certain crimes and that previous administrations have sent several hundred individuals back to Laos, but we urge you to limit, not amplify, such deportations.”

The United States, the bishops explained, has a unique and profound responsibility to Hmong and Lao living here. During the Vietnam War, the United States recruited thousands of their men and boys to fight in what is known as the “Secret War.”

Tens of thousands died and after the war ended, thousands more were killed or persecuted by the communist government of Laos because of this collaboration. Of those who survived, most were forced to flee their homeland, spending years in Thai refugee camps before being allowed to emigrate to the United States.

Today, Wisconsin has the third largest Hmong population after California and Minnesota.

The bishops acknowledged that persons bear responsibility for their own actions, but “governments do as well.”

“We stand with the Hmong community that despairs once again of being separated from family members,” the bishops wrote. “The vast majority of those facing deportation have paid their debt to society. Some are parents with children. We must do everything in our power to avoid traumatizing yet another generation. … those from Laos deserve special recognition for their service, sacrifices and many contributions to our nation.”

Read the entire letter from Wisconsin’s bishops to President Trump at wisconsincatholic.org/advocacy/#bishops.