Visalia Hmong Veteran Sues to Return to Laos

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

By Norma Yuriar

Fresno, Calif. (KMPH News) — An 88–year old Hmong veteran who moved to the valley to seek refuge says he now wants to return to his homeland to be buried in Hmong tradition. But, he's facing a major obstacle the U.S. government won't let him leave — just yet.

Mr. Xiong's full identity is not being released because he's afraid of persecution when he returns to Laos.

Xiong's attorney describes his client as a war hero. He says the Hmong veteran can't return to his native country without his passport. It was confiscated when he filed for political asylum in the U.S. and until the process is complete he won't be able to go home.

"He's an old man," Attorney Ken Seeger said. "He's been in poor health over the past year or so."

The 88–year old fought alongside U.S. forces during the Vietnam War and moved to Visalia to seek refuge. But, now he wants to go home and spend his final days with family.

"It's more than sadness, he's frightened of the prospect of dying here, instead of his homeland," Seeger said.

"If you don't have a proper ceremony then that person can't have complete journey to heaven," Hmong Shaman Bee Pha said.

Pha, a medicine woman in the valley's Hmong community believes there is fear among the elders who die in America of being buried next to a stranger.

"In reality we live in apartments and then when we get buried we feel like we are still living in apartments among strangers and so that's not a comfortable feeling for us," Pha said.

In the case of Mr. Xiong – he's filed a federal lawsuit against Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano because he says immigration officials won't return his passport.

The veteran filed for political asylum in 2007. "But, he's changed his mind and he's willing to take a risk back in Laos just because he's really old and in bad health and thinks the end is near and he wants to die in his homeland," Seeger said.

Mr. Xiong's attorney is hopeful the government will speed up the process and give Mr. Xiong his passport. The office of Homeland Security has not returned our calls.


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