About 1,800 Laotian immigrants, including more than hundred Hmong veterans who fought for the United States against the Vietnamese, protested what they consider the unfair application of certain provisions of the Patriot Act to Hmong refugees.
State and local officials from the Central Valley heard how Hmong residents resettled from Laos and Thailand have had difficulty obtaining green cards, driver's licenses and passports because they or their relatives aided the U.S., said Srida Moua of Hmong National Development, a Hmong advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
Under the Patriot Act, Hmong aren't specifically listed as terrorists, but refugees may be denied entry to the U.S. if they are found to have provided material support to terrorists, defined under the act as having engaged in unlawful activity against their country, Moua said.
"Terrorism's defined as an unlawful activity committed under the laws of the place where it's committed," Moua explained. "In the case of the Hmong, those who took up arms to fight alongside U.S. soldiers fall under this definition.
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Two bills are currently pending in Congress that would remove the material support from applying to Hmong seeking asylum or permanent residency.
"We, the Hmong people, are not terrorists and should not be labeled terrorists," said Noah Lor, the first Hmong city councilman from Merced.
From 1961 to 1975, the CIA recruited thousands of Hmong soldiers to fight against the Vietnamese and Lao communists. Rocky Vang, 54, who organized a Sacramento-area contingent for Saturday's gathering that included four busloads and more than 100 private cars, said he was one of them from 1969 until Laos fell in 1975.
"I've been worried about this a lot," said Vang. "We have a problem with the DMV holding the licenses of our kids until Homeland Security completes their investigation."
Zang Fang of the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center said that many of the 16,000 recently resettled Hmong refugees are facing long delays into getting their green cards approved.
"Over 4,000 applications are on hold because of material support," Fang said.