The 2000 Hmong Veterans’ Naturalization Act was passed in order to expedite the naturalization process of persons who were part of guerilla forces or irregular units in Laos during February 28, 1961 and September 18, 1978. Specifically, the naturalization requirement to speak English was waived, along with some other requirements. Spouses were also included in this legislation. The war veteran and family would be granted refugee status. Even if the war veteran had passed away, his family was still eligible for refugee status and expedited naturalization as long as they applied with the time window prescribed. Numbers accepted were limited to 45,000 Hmong Laotians.
Although most Americans are familiar with the Vietnam War, they may be less familiar with what Laos had to do with it. From 1953 until 1975 Laos was embroiled in a civil war between the Pathet Lao and Royal Lao who controlled the government. This was during the time of the Cold War between Russia and the United States. This conflict, like many others around the globe during the Cold Wars, was actually a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia. The Pathet Lao were backed by Russia and the United States threw in with the Royal Lao. For the people in the know during that era this conflict was called the “Secret War” as both sides fought viciously for control over the Laotian Panhandle.
This was a dense jungle region. Ethnic groups in the area felt threatened by the Pathet rebels. They simply wanted to be left alone within their own territory. The tribal territory of the Hmong was a little piece of real estate that was strategic because, if controlled, the U.S. could cut off supply routes to the North Vietnamese. That is why the U.S. decided to support the Hmong with money and war materials.
The legislation describes the Hmong as mountain people from the southern part of China and northern Burma, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. The bill describes their assistance to U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. When this war ended, the opposing force of Pathet Lao had gained control and many Hmong who had allied themselves with the U.S. were imprisoned and suffered persecution. It is estimated that up to 150,000 Hmong immigrated to the U.S. as refugees as a result of the Vietnam War’s outcome.
The United States recognized that the Hmong’s choice to support the Americans was at great personal risk of danger and possible loss of life. They participated in critical and dangerous missions. They were an important source of military intelligence that was used in combat operations as well as rescue operations for downed pilots.
Once the refugees arrived in the U.S. they found the naturalization process difficult because of the difficulty of learning the English language. The Hmong society did not have a written language until recently so many of the guerillas had never attended a school in the sense of what American society considers education. Because of this difficulty, the nation decided to ease the language requirement in order for these families to become U.S. citizens.
When President Clinton signed this bill into law, this is what he had to say, “This legislation is a tribute to the service, courage, and sacrifice of the Hmong people who were our allies in Laos during the Vietnam War. After the Vietnam War, many Hmong soldiers and their families came to the United States and have become part of the social fabric of American society. They work, pay taxes, and have raised families and made America their home… This law is a small step but an important one in honoring the immense sacrifices that the Hmong people made in supporting our efforts in Southeast Asia.” It may have taken America twenty years, but, the gringa is proud to say that finally, the country made things right.
Photo credit: 2001-2009.state.gov