Monday, December 11, 2006

Southeast Asian 'Terrorists' and the Patriot Act

Way back in January, and throughout the year, I'd written editorials for both the Pioneer Press and Hmong Today and even gave a number of short lectures on the matter to Hmong student groups about the problem that the PATRIOT ACT and our current definitions of terrorist could lead to significant difficulties for Hmong refugees seeking naturalization or to those who were trying to help their relatives back in the old country.

This of course could also apply to Lao, Tai Dam, Iu Mien, and any number of other refugees whose families or friends had been part of the US / Royal Lao Government army and anti-LPDR resistance.

To the United States, a terrorist is defined under Title 22 of the US Code, Section 2656f(d):

—The term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.

—The term “international terrorism” means terrorism involving the territory or the citizens of more than one country.

—The term “terrorist group” means any group that practices, or has significant subgroups that practice, international terrorism.

Right-wing Republican Hmong told me I was being paranoid and the PATRIOT ACT had no relevance to our Hmong community.

But a recent alert from Hmong National Development has pointed out that this is a very real issue:

On Tuesday, December 12, 2006, Hmong National Development, Inc. (HND) along with Southeast Asian Resource Action Center (SEARAC), Refugee Council USA (RCUSA), Human Rights First, and numerous other local and national organizations will participate in a national letter writing campaign to the White House regarding “material support” legislation.

They point out that:
...thousands of vulnerable refugees have been prevented from receiving asylum or being resettled in the U.S. because of sweeping immigration provisions included in the USA PATRIOT Act and the REAL ID Act that relate "material support" to "terrorist" organizations.

The government's concept of "material support" is so broad that it ends up affecting refugees who do not support terrorism, and even refugees who are actually the victims of violent groups. In addition, refugees who have arrived in the U.S. may be affected when they adjust their immigration status in order to gain permanent residence. The material support bar is currently impacting refugees from around the world, including Hmong and Montagnards.

And added this succinct summary:

How does “material support” affect the Hmong community?
In 2003, some 15,000 Hmong-Lao refugees in Thailand, primarily at Wat Thamkrabok, were given the opportunity to seek resettlement in the United States. However, this process left out thousands of other Hmong refugees who left their refugee camps for fear of repatriation and found relative sanctuary in Wat Thamkrabok, a Buddhist temple in central Thailand. Under the broad definition of the “material support” statute, both groups are in danger of having their immigration status indefinitely held up – whether applying for citizenship in the U.S. or awaiting resettlement in Thailand. Many members of the Hmong community have fought alongside U.S. troops during the Vietnam War. The broad definition of providing “material support” to “terrorist organization(s)” implies that by taking up armed resistance against the Lao Communist government, many of these Hmong people have engaged in “terrorist activity” against the government.

They've asked the community to:
Send a letter to the White House on Tuesday, December 12th, 2006 in order to let President Bush know that community members across the country expect the removal of the "material support" bar as it applies to refugees and asylum seekers.

As always, you may send your letter to the White House via e-mail at: or you may send the letter via the post office to: The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20500.

I'm going to go an extra step and point out that this has implications not only for the present and immigration questions, but long-term issues for our community.

For example, would Hmong and Lao candidates for high-level positions in the State Department or the military be denied security clearance for their involvement with 'terrorists'?

Hmong and Lao researchers who work for labs with government contracts or medical facilities who treat government employees could suddenly face difficulties because of these 'ties', even if the act was a simple as buying a music CD put out by a group who wanted to donate clothes and money to armed refugees in Laos.

Even if those arms were just used for subsistence hunting, for example, how does one prove that they weren't used in an attack on the Lao government? And who's to say what constitutes an attack? If a shot was fired, even accidentally, or in self-defense, will the law recognize the finer shades of gray on the matter?

Counter-terrorism is a serious and valid issue, but at the same time, we need to understand the effects and implications of our legislative language and fine tune it to effectively defeat terrorism without it coming at the expense of our families and allies.

So, hopefully we'll see some people take time to drop a quick note off to the president on the matter tomorrow. It's only a few minutes, but it will make a difference in the lifetimes of those we care for.


Anonymous said...

I recommend, as a fellow activist and daughter of now-retired US Postal Service employee:

Do NOT mail to the White House.

Since the poison scares and the continued Alert colors, the White House goes through each and every piece of physical mail, to the point that it may be months from it's arrival at the White House in-house post office to reaching its final destination.

Send via fax, phone and email. Those reach your intended audience(s), and do so in a timely manner, so your voice is heard while the issue is still pertinent.


Anonymous said...

Don't mean to defend the Patriot Act, because I don't particularly like it either, but let me ask you this...

Wouldn't that provision of the Patriot Act that you cite only affect the Hmong refugees/asylum seekers in Thailand if the U.S. has designated dissidents of the Lao government (i.e., the Chao Fa) as members of a "terrorist organization"? I believe the U.S. has a list of groups it considers "terrorist."

Bryan Thao Worra said...

Because the United States maintains an embassy in Laos, it has recognized the LPDR as the legitimate government of Laos.

There's a wide loophole for Hmong Chao Fa and other dissident organizations to be classified as terrorists, and those who help them as having provided material aid.

That they were our former allies won't have much bearing when the INS and other agencies start making their determinations. Right now, there's no official grounds for them NOT to raise eyebrows at the issue.

A parallel might be the way the US currently views rebels and resistance from Chechnya when they attack the Russians. The US may not particularly like the Russians, but on general principle the message has been zero-tolerance for terrorists, even if they're not presently anti-American.

We hear a great deal about Islamic terrorists, but they're not the only ones the US is monitoring or concerned about.

The Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism classifies the Underground Government of the Free Democratic People of Laos aka Free Democratic People’s Government of Laos or the Free Democratic Government Committee of the Lao People as terrorists. (

While they're only a non-profit, it definitely suggests to me that we should beware of the shifting winds of political alliances and conveniences. Imagine if they gain increased traction in helping the US identifying other official terrorist organizations.

After all, there was a time when we backed the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, and we saw how all that turned out.

The sooner that we can make certain that the INS and other government agencies have clear guidelines for Hmong and others, the better.

As it is, the PATRIOT Act doesn't have much language that allows it to distinguish whether it's a bunch of people with an acronym committing terrorist acts or whether it's a bunch of people WITHOUT a name committing 'terrorist-like' acts, like, oh, trying to forcibly get rid of a communist government. They'll all get painted with the same broad brush.

And as I've been trying to outline- a lot of people are already in line to get hit by the splash.

If we can 'head it off at the pass' I believe that will be a far better course of action.