WAUSAU – City leaders voted to support Hmong residents Tuesday night to challenge any Trump administration efforts to deport some members of the ethnic group to Laos.

The City Council voted to “oppose the deportation and repatriation of Hmong and Lao residents of Wausau to Laos, as well as deportation of Hmong and Lao refugees throughout the United States which have been issued by the U.S. Federal government.”

The resolution was written by Mary Thao, the only Hmong member of the council.

Thao said the effort to deport non-citizen members of the Hmong community would affect at least five people in Marathon County, who have already reached out to the Madison-based nonprofit Freedom Inc. for help.

“We have to remember that Laos is not a home to some of these individuals. They can’t speak the language. They didn’t grow up there. They spent the last 40-plus years making the United States their home, we fled persecution, we fled the communists — the communists who were chasing after us because of our involvement with the United States in the secret war,” she said. “So we don’t want to send individuals back to a geography where we’re fleeing for our lives. … It is a human rights issue.”

The council voted unanimously to support the measure, which will be sent to local legislators, Gov. Tony Evers, the Wisconsin League of Municipalities and Wisconsin members of Congress.

Thao said that in addition to Wausau, the cities of Appleton, La Crosse and Madison have taken up the issue, looking to support their Hmong residents.

The concern stems from a late January meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Lao Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith. During the meeting, the two spoke about the deportation of Hmong and Lao residents who have not become U.S. citizens and who have committed crimes and have deportation orders against them.

A State Department spokesperson did not directly answer a reporter’s questions about the Trump administration’s plans but noted that the United States and Laos are in constant dialogue about Lao nationals subject to deportation. The U.S. government expects Laos to fulfill its obligation to accept those who are deported, and it funds a reintegration program there when needed, the spokesperson said.

Wisconsin is home to more than 49,000 Hmong residents, and about 5,600 live in Marathon County. It’s not clear how many Hmong residents of Wisconsin are under deportation orders, but the number is nearly 5,000 nationwide.

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Thao said the worry over deportation is personal for her, as her brother was never able to complete his citizenship in the United States because he was charged with a crime after injuring someone in a fight in Minneapolis. He was 18 at the time, she said.

“Every day, we still have concerns about what would happen from charges that he received 30-plus years ago, that that may come back and haunt him being someone that could be potentially deported,” she said.

Other barriers exist for those looking to attain citizenship, too, Thao said, such as a lack of money or of understanding the system. Some families also are worried now, if they apply for naturalization, they will be sought out and deported.

Contact watchdog reporter Laura Schulte at 715-496-4088 or Follow her on Twitter @schultelaura.

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