The United States has a binding history with the Hmong. During the "Secret Wars" in Southeast Asia, dedicated Hmong soldiers fought side-by-side with American forces and rescued many downed American pilots. Over 20,000 Hmong lost their lives while assisting U.S. forces in covert operations. With U.S. military withdrawal from Southeast Asia following the Vietnam conflict, many Hmong were force to flee the area or live in refugee camps or face punishment for their service to the United States. Tens of thousands of Lao and Hmong veterans and their families relocated to America, with concentrations in California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
There are over 250,000 Lao and Hmong in the United States today. Wisconsin is home to over 35,000 Lao and Hmong men and women, of which approximately 8,000 live in the Third Congressional District. Making the transition to life in the United States has been an understandably dramatic change for many Hmong families. Through the compassionate efforts of the American people and the Hmong immigrants, however, our communities have grown and prospered. In western Wisconsin, the Hmong community represents an important part of our cultural diversity.
In Congress, I have worked with my colleagues to make sure that the United States government continues to honor the sacrifices made by Hmong veterans and promotes the cultural contributions Hmong men and women have made to American society. One of the achievements I am most proud of has been working with the late Bruce Vento, U.S. Representative from Minnesota, on passage of the Hmong Veterans Naturalization Act. This bill, which was signed into law by President Clinton on May 26, 2000, expedited the naturalization process for Hmong veterans.
In addition, I appreciate that many Hmong and Lao Americans have friends and family still in Laos. Allegations of harassment, imprisonment, and even the kidnapping and killing of ethnic Hmong by Lao authorities have been raised by many concerned groups, and need to be addressed by the international community. I have met with the U.S. Ambassador to Laos, Douglas Hartwick, to discuss the human rights situation in Laos, and I continue to work with the State Department on issues related to Laos. Furthermore, in 2002, I introduced legislation, H. Con. Res. 318, bringing attention to the repressive Lao political environment and urging election and human rights reforms in Laos.