Hmong Groups Rally in Washington for Immigration Reform

By Tim Montgomery

Immigration rallyBusloads of immigrants converged on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, on April 10th for a national rally in support of immigration reform. Hmong delegations from Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Carolina, California and Rhode Island joined a crowd estimated at over 40,000 on the west lawn of the Capitol as a bipartisan group of senators worked to finalize agreement on a comprehensive proposal to reform immigration law.

The most visible debate over immigration reform has centered on what to do about the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally, but many recent immigrants have equally important concerns about family reunification. Immigration law has become so restrictive and divisive in its categories and quotas, that it effectively separates the families of legal immigrants and doesn't allow for reunification of extended families.

"Bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform matters to many Asian American communities because of the scattering of our family members after the Vietnam War," explained Dr. Neal Thao. Thao, a former 2-term St. Paul School Board member, is an associate professor and chair of the Social Work Department at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul. He helped organize the group of Hmong immigrants from Minnesota who traveled over 20 hours by bus and van to participate in the Washington, DC rally. "Many Asian Americans who descend from Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, Karen, Lu-Miens, Khmu, Tai Dam and other ethnic groups have left relatives behind, and this immigration reform needs to facilitate the reunification of their families."

National organizations like rally host groups Casa de Maryland and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) want Congress to support measures in the current proposal to preserve and reunite families, fix problems in the 1996 immigration laws and create a path to citizenship for people who are in the country illegally.

The Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), a national advocacy group for Asian Americans' rights led by former Minnesota State Senator Mee Moua, teamed up with the host groups and others to coordinate transportation and lobbying efforts of participants in the rally. AAJC provided the Hmong groups with guides for visits to the offices of members of Congress. Teams walked from a staging area two blocks from the Capitol to nearby Senate and House office buildings and meetings where they voiced their concerns over the need to change current immigration law. Most talked with staff, but some were greeted by their representatives in Congress.

"Our priority is reuniting families," said Minnesota Senator Al Franken, to one group. Franken sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee and said he will introduce amendments to protect children and families and to make sure e-verification for employment checks conforms to all accuracy standards for ID verification.

"The Hmong in Minnesota have a special status," said Sen. Franken in thanking the group that visited with him. "There are fewer names on the (Vietnam Memorial) Wall than there would be if not for the Hmong who fought with Americans."

"The members of the Hmong community in Minnesota are our neighbors, our fellow business owners and our co-workers, and keeping families together is critical to keeping our state strong," added Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar in a statement released later. She indicated she would continue to work to make sure visas are available to family members who need them.

Members of the Hmong delegations who traveled to Washington for the rally said they will continue to work for immigration reform. They are ready to make their case in Washington once again when the formal proposal for Comprehensive Immigration Reform comes before Congress.

Published on the front page of Asian American Press on April 19, 2013