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Deportation and Lao America: It’s Time to Wake Up

For a number of years now, our Southeast Asian neighbors, as well as some of our own people, including ethnic groups residing in Laos, have been battling deportation. We have, as a group, largely ignored this. We seem to think that if we keep our heads down, it won’t and can’t happen to us. But it already has and, it will hit us hard very soon. None of these are good enough excuses for how uninvolved we’ve been. If your personal reasons for staying out of the fray are any of the below, please read further to find out why it’s no longer good enough to stay silent.

1) I consider myself American/Lao American and that’s not my problem.

Most of the deported also viewed themselves as such. Still, because of at least one mistake, they, and their entire family will pay for this pretty heavily. Have you forgotten why most of us came here and how we arrived? Regardless, one mistake shouldn’t dictate where we feel at home. The tenure of a person’s time somewhere does not translate into the reality of where they feel their home is. Families are being separated.

2) The folks being deported are crooks and criminals and deserve it. I was also a refugee/1st gen and I managed to stay out of trouble, so they should have been able to do it as well.

That’s pretty harsh. Are you really that sinless? Have you really never made a mistake in your life? Further, do we all arrive at the same level of education, knowledge, and receive the same form of help and assistance? I’ve gotta tell you, I know you don’t believe that to be the case. There’s a huge difference in surviving in America with a few kids vs keeping and ensuring 8 kids are fed and succeed. Besides all of that, some of us didn’t even know there was government assistance until years later. The age range and year range of the diaspora is pretty large. People’s capabilities are pretty wide-ranging. If that mistake didn’t matter for years and all of a sudden does, does that not strike you as strange and unfair? Again, the mistake never mattered until years later or a change in administration made it a top priority. Do you understand why that’s important? Because, it’s arbitrary.

3)  Why didn’t they get citizenship to begin with, when they’ve been here for so long?! The ones with small misdemeanors wouldn’t be in trouble.

When you don’t speak the language and no one follows-up with you at any point in time later to tell you the fine details, why would it ever cross your mind that this acceptance and welcome to the country was for a limited time only? No one told you that. If they did, you certainly didn’t understand. Culturally speaking, when America let us in, in the beginning, we accepted it was for as long as we wanted/needed. Afterall, America had a heavy hand in putting us in this position to begin with (even if some people are still unaware or in denial about the whole secret war thing). There was no understanding of a whimsical expiration date. We weren’t here on a work or student visa and we certainly weren’t tourists. We were welcomed in and left to fend for ourselves. A lot of the folks on this list–made a mistake along the way because there was no guidance.

Not to mention, surviving takes time, let alone the ability to find/pay for language lessons when you’re feeding mouths and living in the projects. Why do only 13% of us have college degrees to this day? I mean, look. If you can’t seem to graduate high school and get a college degree and beyond…is that all your fault? If your answer is yes, there’s a myth that you’re buying into: that we all start at the same starting line. Think about how untrue that is. The refugees that came here from camps–are they at any point, at the same starting line as Asians who have been here for centuries or the Americans that formed this country? I’ve gotta tell you, I have several non-Asian friends whose parents pay the down payment for their first house, let alone their first car and/or finance their college education. Can refugee parents do that? I haven’t even gotten started on the whole retirement funding. Still believe we’re at the same starting line? Still believe everyone should be able to play catch up that fast?

4) We don’t have an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with Laos. I’m not worried.

Yet. That’s the operative word missing from that sentence. Ever wondered why we went for years with these records and nothing really came of it? Well, new administrations come with new focal points, and this current administration, has decided to make immigration its priority. That includes Lao Americans. So, it’s probably just a matter of time before an MOU is reached. Be aware, though, that an MOU does not need to be reached for deportations to occur, the lack of one just stops larger scale operations. It’s called changing times. But, lest we forget, we’re also here, in large part because of America’s initial involvement in the war–and subsequent overnight pull-out vanishing act that left us pregnant with unexploded ordnances, to boot.

5) I care but I don’t have time for this.

Okay, great. Then help get the word out to those folks that might need help by passing on information and links and resources! That doesn’t take much time and it might save someone from leaving the only home they’ve ever known or losing a child they tried to give a better life to.

6) It won’t affect me. I just don’t care.

Then please remember what it means to be Lao and proud. I don’t imagine any of us were ever taught not to help one another. Our culture is about inviting strangers to dine with us, passersby to huddle in our huts if they have nowhere else to go, and a generosity of spirit I haven’t seen replicated very often. America may have influenced us, but don’t let it take the best part of being Lao, away from us.

7) I’m scared.

We all are. Including the mom and her kids ripped apart arbitrarily. So let’s pass information on and help one another. It’s the least we can do.

Changed your mind? I hope so. In order to grow stronger, we need to unite.

In order to enact a positive outcome, we need to unite.

Besides all the links scattered above for you to click on for more information, the below has all kinds of links for you to familiarize yourself with AND pass along.

–On Facebook: Follow/Like or just be aware that there’s a page that will be constantly updated with relevant information to help people out. Facebook: Deportation: News and Information. Share it to your general audience and ask them to share it forward. Someone out there needs the information.

–There’s also SEARAC. A lot of the information provided on the facebook page comes from their hard work and ground work to begin with. The facebook page is meant to give another alternative to amplify and raise awareness. I don’t care how valuable information gets dispersed–not when it needs to get out there.

What to do if ICE is at your door.

I hope I’ve convinced at least one person to take this seriously. Remember to take care of one another. I hope that Lao American communities start mobilizing. As of this note, I’m happy to note that Seattle/Washington state, has begun. Minnesota is well ahead and I hope to see much more, soon. Please connect with one another for more information and help.


  1. Andy Wallace says

    There is a huge scandal in the UK right now which has cost the Home Secretary her job. Jamaican immigrants to the UK came by invitation on boats such as the Windrush, and lived and worked for 5 decades, adding immensely to the cultural and economic prosperity of the UK. But records weren’t kept. In this post Brexit era, so hostile to migrants, they became illegals and have lost jobs, homes and healthcare. Thank goodness for robust, democratic campaigns. If you shout loud (Laod?) people will come out in support.
    Keep up the fight!

    • Hi Andy,

      Hope all is well! I just realized I never got back to you the last time. Sorry! Thanks for the information about the Jamaican immigrants. I’ll have to look into that one. That sounds absolutely horrifying. Thanks for all your support! We’d love to see another piece from you. 🙂 –Sai

  2. Angel Aye says

    Wow, I am a Laotian American and if this really happens than I’m pretty much screwed myself. I’ve made mistakes in the past & I can’t change that. I’ve changed my life & learned from mistakes. Thank you for sharing this


    • We’ve all made mistakes in the past. How is it that kids in school can smoke weed and not go to jail, but someone from Cambodia can have it sent to his house, be in jail for a year serving time–and now is deported because of it? All for a drug that is legal in some states. We came here with the everything stacked against us. Having to dig out from under that pile and create something successful was harder than it would have been for most other groups. Survival mode is not thriving mode. I hope we can keep gathering information and stuff to help. –Sai

      • if you feel it is unfair, you are free to leave anytime, there are literally millions literally dying to get here. if you think america is that bad give your place to someone else that wants it. if everything is stacked against “us” and america is so racist, murderous, unfair, crooked, corrupt, go to mexico and see how fair and just the federalies are, go to china and see how privileged they are, go to laos and visit the reeducation camps they still use today.

        life is hard everywhere for everyone. i don’t know what world you live in where chinese people and white people are all born into rich families, i know black people that make more money than me and had a better life than me. who cares, race isn’t a great way to identify suffering.

    • Blakky Seng says

      Most of the Laotian who immigrated as youths made mistakes.We left in a situation where we had to form our own gangs to fend ourselves.We didn’t choose it it was force upon us by the violent encounters we face by other races.Where was the government then when we Laotians were going through this?I’m a product of this am I wrong for fighting back towards people who were on a mission to violate us?What was I to do just let them do it.You America should of warn us of the environment you was going to place us in.We infested your ghettos and projects with the rest of the forgotten people.Now once again you are forgetting about us after our people help you and sacrifice their lives in a secret war and my people in Laos continue to die from this secret bombing campigan.Justice and Leberty is the cornerstone of this Nation but forgotten and clouded by a racist president and administration.

  3. Kane Vongsavanh says

    Thank you Saysomphorn and Little Laos on the Prairie for organizing and mobilizing Lao Americans. I just wanted to add a couple points to the things you mentioned, most people don’t realize that anyone who is not a citizen can be ordered deported for somewhat minor crimes; such as larceny, fraudulent checks, domestic violence, etc. (we are not always talking about murderers and rapists).

    It’s not as easy as everyone thinks it is to become a citizen. It currently costs $725 to apply to become a citizen. There’s an english reading, writing, and speaking test and a civics test.

    Individuals who have a removal order or who has a felony or serious misdemeanor charge /conviction should consult and immigration attorney. If you have a removal order, you should still consult an immigration attorney because there’s still a small chance you can get your case overturned. There are some non-profit immigration groups that will provide free or low cost legal services. Catholic Charities and Just Neighbors are just a couple that come to my mind. Immigration National Network has a great directory of legal service providers here:

    The U.S. Dept. of Justice has a list of pro bono legal service providers separated by individual states here:

    Thanks again for taking the lead in helping the Lao community!

  4. Thanks for posting this. I hope this is a wake up call to all Lao folks regarding the seriousness of this topic. Lao people need to wake up and get out of this internal laziness or easy going attitude we have carried over from the homeland. I have strong feelings about this subject as I have a’lot of friends who have made errors yet are ineligible to become US citizens. For those who are eligible what are you waiting for even if the cost have gone up somewhat I’m sure you have spent more on useless shit in your life get something to ensure your future

    • E Mee says

      Internal laziness or easy-going attitude? Why are you so quick to blame laziness? Have you ever thought that some people may be depressed or suffering in other ways you can’t see? Or I don’t know- getting abused at home by their parents? If someone believes they don’t deserve anything then they’re not going to care about their future. Lao people need to be more understanding and support each other emotionally.

      • Yes I know about depression and suffering and even abuse, the same ones who know the latest NBA NFL spread points and buying expensive shit while living in shit hole. I know this from a first hand experience. If anyone thinks 700 or more dollars is expensive to get something as coveted as US Citizenship, please jump off a bridge asap. And the internal laziness and easy going attitude was witnessed first hand in the motherland not from hearsay. Lao people need to be more adamant and vocal, But I enjoy reading your commentary. The fact that this thread only has 14 comments says alot.

  5. Kahn Souphanousinphones says

    Yep, if you are in this country legally and have not applied for citizenship you should do it now No excuse what so ever. Years ago I heard some complained they don’t have money to apply and now it cost even more. Some said they don’t need it ‘cos someday they will be back to Laos. Ha ha and ha ha ha, that’s very funny. How are they going to leave this country without a passport? Don’t be lazy, get your paper in order and become a citizen. When you became a billionaire then renounce it if you wanted to! Heck who wanted to pay taxes, right?
    If you were not sure that you are a US citizen you can ask your parents. Well, if they were not alive then ask US government. Some of you probably too small to remembered when you sworn in to become a citizen. No they are not going to deport you just for asking since you came here legally as refugee. If you bought one way ticket here like so many opportunists (nicer term: dreamer) then you are on your own. Criminals who got caught and not having citizenship usually ended up in a joint in the desert of AZ for life. I don’t think Laos has agreement to take criminal back (for a fee) like Cambodia does.

    • there is a bit of a conflation and actual incorrect blaming in this article, tho to be fair a lot less than i expected and have seen. i have seen many asian political mouthpieces use fear to gain support for DACA/illegal mexican immigrants. some just making slight incorrect statements to some making out right lies saying they are in the same boat and trump is going to deport all asian refugees after he is done with the mexicans. you seem more on the reasonable side here, though you still have the same goal of “uniting” us against a common enemy that isn’t really the enemy, it’s just tribalism that this place seems to advocate. down with trump, down with white people, down with chinese people.

      so while you at least try to come off as reasonable. tho you are still incorrect in your narrative. let me correct you. you say we went for many years without issue and it wasn’t until this new administration. that isn’t true, the reason why asian refugees didn’t have much of a problem is because they came over with the refugee act of 1980. they aren’t illegal and their children aren’t dreamers. mexican illegals have come over to directly take advantage of a immigration loophole that the country kindly afforded them, to have children here be legal then at 18 to transfer citizenship to them. a allbeit long way to trick the system. now that government which has the right, tries to remove that loophole, they are the enemy, even tho they gave their children citizenship for so long, treat them fairly and with due process, gave them benefits and entitlements even though neither of them are entitled and started out with bad faith and malice intentions.

      refugees have very specific standards to come over, generally their lives in danger from political and physical oppression, mexicans leave their impoverished country for a better life. there is a difference, refugees have their rights, freedoms, and lives endangered by a actual political physical force. mexicans have their lives impoverished by their own elected government and economy. both are horrible and i wouldn’t want either situation, but there is a difference. please try to explain a actual lao or hmong war veteran that fought for democracy and freedom, that survived a reeducation camps where communists tortured them, that he is the same as someone that wants a better job. both deserve better and have the right to want better, but they are not the same. stop trying to denigrate refugees by using them as tools for illegals.

      the refugee act also has various limits. which is why asian refugees do get deported even before evil trump, for either crime or other legal issues. there are also things like forms and paperwork they have to fulfill, but nothing unreasonable, and they are entitled to appeals if they mess up or forget paperwork, very nice of this fascist white supremacist country, allowing due process and fair treatment with people. which they also give fair treatment to mexican illegals i might add, you know what they do to illegals in singapore and mayasia they cane them then kick them out.

      lets try to keep facts priority and not be so intellectually dishonest, as a political/news/journalism source, that is the standard.

  6. E Mee says

    I think there’s a lot of fear mongering and encouraging Lao people to continue playing the victim in this article. We’re getting lost in fear and emotions and that will not help anyone.

    First of all- we need to work on providing our fellow Lao people with proper emotional support. People think it’s so easy to finish school and live a good life but not if you don’t have support from your friends, family, and community. When one fails, then the other two need to pick up the slack. We need to speak to each other kindly and strive to understand each other. To all my Lao brothers and sisters, if you’re reading this I want you to know that your life is whatever you make of it. No one is going to give you the life you want except yourself.

    And you deserve it. If you’ve had a crappy life- abusive parents, victim of a violent crime and etc- I want you to know that you deserve to be happy and you deserve your dreams. But you are not going to get them if you sit on your ass every day and drink your problems away blaming everyone else. If you have issues- get help. And remember that your actions today form your future. If you steal or do anything illegal, there are consquences- in any country not just theone you live in. Don’t steal from your fellow Lao ( putting this in because someone once stole a bunch of money from relative’s funeral which is messed up).

    No one talks about mental health in the Lao community. Will I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to need help and it’s okay for you to talk about it and get help. If you need a therapist get one, if you can afford it. There are plenty of free resources availble. Here’s a list from the almighty Oprah :
    I’m sure that wherever you live, also has resources available so check those as well and find one that works for you.

    • E Mee says

      “Why do only 13% of us have college degrees to this day? I mean, look. If you can’t seem to graduate high school and get a college degree and beyond…is that all your fault? If your answer is yes, there’s a myth that you’re buying into: that we all start at the same starting line. ”

      My answer is still yes and it has nothing to do with believing that we all start at the same starting line. It’s because no one is going to do the work for you. We all have issues but at some point we got to stop blaming other people and do the work. A book I recommend- Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and into Your Life by Gary John Bishop. It greatly helped me in the past and continues to help me now.

      We need to realize that we have been given opportunities that we wouldn’t have in Laos. Frankly speaking, if you and/or your family came to the US as refugees, then most likely you’re from a peasant farming family. Think of what life would be like for use if we had remained there. Not as good as we have it in the US. So take advantage of the opportunities you have- go to school, get an education, and get a good job. No one is going to give you a good life but yourself. (And… some of us need to start realizing that our parents are never going to admit they were bad parents no matter how crappy we make our lives- we’re just hurting ourselves.)

      Think of what you want your life to be like in five years or even one year and figure out what you need to do to get there and then do it. No one else will do it for you. People always ask kids what they want to be but I think it’s more important to ask what you want your life to be like.Even down to the regular day to day activities- food you eat, toilet paper you use. Because your actions today form your future- yes even the brand of toilet paper you use. Do you want to be in and out of jail?Needing to work two+ menial jobs to pay the bills? Have a house big enough for all your family?

      If you’re in highschool right now and you’re failing- take a deep breath, go to the couselor and talk to them about what you need to do in order to graduate. It doesn’t even have to be on time-if you need an additional semester or two then do it. Yes, it’s going to suck to have the conservation- you’ll feel bad and like a failure but that feeling will pass and with a lot of work so will you and you’ll graduate. And yes it may suck being super senior but just bear with it for however long you need to because then you’ll be done and graduate.

      If you’re parents don’t know anything about the higher education system in the US (which is very likely) then unfortunately, the responsbility lies with you to get yourself informed- as with most things. Because quite frankly, they don’t teach you everything you need to know at school.So ask your teacher, friends, school counselor, random people on the internet, Google. Something new I learned this week that I wish I knew when I was in highschool – PSATS score are important not just to tell you how much more work you need to do for the SATS. Your scores can also qualify you to enter the National Merit Scholarship program and competition.

      Most importantly- it’s okay if you didn’t do life perfectly. Be kind to yourself but at some point you do have to get up and take action to make your life better

      And It’s okay if other people didn’t go through life as well as you might have. Be kind and understanding to other people.

      I think I need my own blog because this is just getting really long.

      • E Mee says

        Anyways the last thing I want to say is – if you’re worried about getting deported for whatever reason, maybe you made a mistake or are just thinking that this administration will suddenly decide to deport all permanent residents, then now is the time to take action and most importantly, prepare for the worst. Fretting about it will get you nowhere. Being fearful everyday will not accomplish anything but taking action will. So below is basically my list of what I plan to do with a few extras thrown in:

        Don’t be a dumbass- be smart. Don’t mess around with bad people or drugs, even marijuana. It doesn’t matter if it’s legal in some states or cities if it’s not legal in yours.It’s still illegal under federal law so best to steer clear of it.

        Educate yourself on the law and look up the costs of deportation lawyers. Even just for fun. Heck you might even enjoy it and want to be a lawyer to help other people.

        Right now the cost of applying for citizenship is $725 – the cost is only going to go up so might as well do it now. It seems like a lot of money but you can save up for it. Write down a budget for yourself. write down all your expenses and add them up. I’m talking only bills here- rent, car, insurance, utilities. Then subtract that from the money you make each month. Set a food budget from that and then figure out how much money you can put towards the application cost each payday. If you qualify, then definitely apply to become a citizen and study for the test. Maybe you have a couple of friends who need to take the test too? Study together. And if you need to , you can also find a second job to help you reach the goal faster.

        Also having a budget will help you save as much money as you can because money is king in the Old Country. A second job will also help if you think it’s highly likely that you’ll be deported.

        Maybe look into a side hustle like writing short novels and selling them online through Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble for Nook?

        Get to know your relatives in Laos/ practice speaking Lao to them. Yeah, they might ask you for money (which is annoying) but it’ll pay off in the long while. You’ll learn about the current political and economic situation in Laos as well as any cultural norms you might want to consider. You’ll also, you know, know what your relatives look like which is always a plus. This will definitely help in the long run. On that note – check out Lao news on channels like Lao Star Tv and Malimar Tv on yotube.

        Get your GED if you don’t already have one. Every state has different requirements and tests so I would check directly with your state’s website on the GED and HSET, so that you don’t get ripped off. Yes, you may feel bad because you didn’t graduate at 18 and all that but just work through the bad feelings and do it. You can study during breaks, during lunch, when you’re kids are asleep. It may take a while but keep at it.

        Find out more about ASEAN. Might also be worth it to learn Thai.

        Finish college and get that degree. Nowadays, it’s easier to finish since a lot of schools are offering online courses and online versions of degrees. You don’t have to do a Bachelor’s degree to start with. You can just do an associates or even just a certificate if you need to make more than minimum wage and to work full time as soon as possible. Yeah, some people might say it’s stupid but do what works for you. Might want to see if you can test out of any GER’s to save yourself some money. Anyways that’s enough rambling from me. Take what I say with a grain of salt, if you wish- I’m just a random person on the internet.

  7. Kahn Souphanousinphones says

    I wanted to make another note about our young people attainment of college education. That 13% is misleading to me. At least in my city. I have seen many Lao people (refugee) and their second generation offspring graduated college more and more. We have to give them more credits. Just this past weeks a lone I attended three graduations and two of those received doctor of pharmacy and one business administration. Look, those newly grads their parents are just like me. We worked in factory and have typical jobs, sent our kids to school, guided them through life just like any typical good parents need to do. We don’t drive a Lexus nor a BMW or any fancy expensive car. Our home are small, decent and not extravagant. The money we have we spent on their educations. We make it a priority that we have money to send them to school and not hoping they will get a free ride. I would say over fifty percents of those kids who graduated colleges borrowed their ways through school. I asked one who got a doctorate degree and she had over $100K loan. It is a lot of money but that degree is well worth it since her income will enable her to pay that off in couple years. I have a college graduate of my own and his income already surpassed me. A 24 years old young man, two years of working, already making closing to six figures with a computer sciences degree. He is fortunate that I made it my priority to save for his education. The point is. What is important in your life? What is your priority? Are you going to complain that we don’t have same opportunity like those white kids whose parents born and owned this country of theirs? Don’t be victim of your own perception. Don’t try to change the world. Change the thing you have control, and that is yourself.

  8. Tony syvongsa says

    To sum people u Kant get ur citizenship Kuz like me I went to prison when I was 15 and didn’t get til 8 years later they trying to deport me but they Kan I’m still here in the US I have to check in all the time wit immigration and pay for a work visa every year they took my green card from me if any know more hit me up and let me know

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