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February 8, 2020

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Hmong and Lao refugees in the U.S. face deportation under the current administration.
Photo credit: Tim Gruber/The Guardian
"The Trump administration appears to be ramping up talks with the Lao government to deport thousands of Hmong and Lao Americans back to Laos" - via the (Minneapolis-based) Star-Tribune - and here's a related story from Minnesota Public Radio.

At the end of January, The Guardian reported, "Trump to reportedly allow use of landmines, reversing Obama-era policy - Defence secretary Mark Esper confirmed the policy change that would, according to a Pentagon review, increase danger to US armed forces."
And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove!
    I would fly away and be at rest;
truly, I would flee far away;
    I would lodge in the wilderness;
I would hurry to find a shelter for myself
    from the raging wind and tempest.”
But I call upon God,
    and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
    I utter my complaint and moan,
    and he will hear my voice.
He will redeem me unharmed
    from the battle that I wage,
    for many are arrayed against me.
My companion laid hands on a friend
    and violated a covenant with me
with speech smoother than butter,
    but with a heart set on war;
with words that were softer than oil,
    but in fact were drawn swords.
- Psalm 55, vs. 6-8, 16-18, 20-21
As far as I can tell, this is an unfolding story, and the exact outlines and potential harm of the Trump administration's plans are not yet clear. 

But let's talk a little about who's allowed to forget history.

During the Vietnam War, the CIA recruited more than 40,000 soldiers in Laos to help fight Communist forces. Many of them came from the Hmong ethnic minority. As the war came to a close, those who'd served alongside the U.S. in Laos often had to run for their lives. Others fled from the famines caused by their country's Communist policies. The fortunate ones made it to refugee camps and then through the grueling resettlement program to new lives in the United States, mostly in California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Here are history and stats about Hmong folks in the U.S. If you want to read the stories of one U.S. Hmong community, I recommend this from The Guardian.

Point of the moment: most Hmong immigration took place between 1975 and the mid-1980s. The Trump administration would like to delegitimize immigration that happened forty or more years ago. Many of those immigrants were effectively exiled because they fought as our CIA's allies.

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. also dropped 250 million tons of explosives on Laos, making it history's most heavily bombed country per capita. Almost a third of those bombs didn't detonate, leaving Laos poisoned by unexploded ordnance to this day. Laos is 80% rural, but farmers can't fully use their land when at any moment they or their children might lose life or limb to a buried cluster bomb. The bombs America left behind are a big part of what's kept Laos impoverished by global standards since the 1970s.

Our current government now also plans to resume deployment of landmines, sowing more of the earth with death. More than 150 countries banned and started abolishing landmines in 1997. Most landmine casualties since 1999 have been civilians.

Apparently the Trump administration and our military-industrial complex are allowed to forget history, ignoring the decades that the Hmong have been our neighbors and ignoring America's massive unpaid debt to Laos and other countries shattered by our aggression. "My companion...violated a covenant with me with speech smoother than butter, but with a heart set on war," indeed.
Learn more about the ongoing danger of explosives in Laos from the not-for-profit Legacies of War and about efforts to abate landmines and unexploded ordnance everywhere from MAG America. (Warning: graphic content.)

U.S. Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota is advocating for the Hmong-Lao community and against tearing families apart through deportation - keep an eye on her and the Coalition of Asian American Leaders for next steps.
May I be a guard for those who need protection
A guide for those on the path
A boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood
May I be a lamp in the darkness
A resting place for the weary
A healing medicine for all who are sick
A vase of plenty, a tree of miracles
And for the boundless multitudes of living beings
May I bring sustenance and awakening
Enduring like the earth and sky
Until all beings are freed from sorrow
And all are awakened.
- the Bodhisattva prayer adapted from the Buddhist sage Shantideva, c. 700
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