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Change Sought in Anti-Terror Laws to Aid Hmong Refugees from Laos


The change is sought in a provision that is included in a Senate spending bill for the Iraq, aimed at easing the impact that anti-terrorism laws have on Hmong refugees from Laos.

The provision states that the Hmong and some other groups are not considered terrorists. Under provisions of the USA Patriot Act and the Real ID Act, the Hmong who fought alongside the Americans in the "secret war" against communists in Laos are considered terrorists and are therefore ineligible for asylum or green cards.

The patriot Act and the Real ID Act of 2005 threaten a partnership made more thant 40 years ago that opened the United States to Hmong refugees. The laws allow anyone who supplied material or military support to an insurgent group to be classified as a "terrorist." It's a definition broad enough so that the label could be applied to some Hmong, who say the implication of the laws has been difficulty in entering the country or attaining citizenship.

"The Patriot Act passed in 2001, but we didn't really hear about these effects until recently," said Koua Vang, director of United Refugee Services in Madison, Wisconsin. " The new refugees, who have arrived here after 2001, have not gotten their citizenship and that caught our attention."

The provision was authored by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who said it was needed "to help get our law back in sync with our values."

Co-sponsors include the committee's top Republican, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, as well as Sens. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., Russ Feingold, D-Wis., Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan.

"Hmong refugees, who dedicated their service to America during the Vietnam War, have looked to the U.S. as a place of hope and a sanctuary from persecution," said Coleman. "I have been fighting to change this law ever since I learned about its unintended consequences, and I am pleased that the (Bush) administration and my colleagues now agree that this matter needs to be resolved."

The Hmong began arriving in this country in large numbers during the 1970s, in the aftermath of Vietnam, 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.

The Hmong have been affected by the anti-terror laws because of their guerrilla activities during the Vietnam War and, later, against the Laotian government.

The Senate is taking up the Iraq spending bill this week.

Sources: AP, L.E., WP.

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