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[Congressional Record: May 23, 2000 (House)]
[Page H3576-H3578]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:cr23my00-74]                         



 
               HMONG VETERANS' NATURALIZATION ACT OF 2000

  Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to take from 
the Speaker's table the bill (H.R. 371) to facilitate the 
naturalization of aliens who served with special guerrilla units or 
irregular forces in Laos, with Senate amendments thereto, and concur in 
the Senate amendments.
  The Clerk read the title of the bill:
  The Clerk read the Senate amendments, as follows:
       Senate amendments:
      Page 4, line 6, strike out ``In'' and insert ``(a) In''.
      Page 4, strike out all after line 15, down to and including 
     line 25 and insert:
       (3) may request an advisory opinion from the Secretary of 
     Defense regarding the person's, or their spouse's, service in 
     a special guerrilla unit, or irregular forces, described in 
     section 2(1)(B); and
       (4) may consider any documentation provided by 
     organizations maintaining records with respect to Hmong 
     veterans or their families.
       (b) The Secretary of Defense shall provide any opinion 
     requested under paragraph (3) to the extent practicable, and 
     the Attorney General shall take into account any opinion that 
     the Secretary of Defense is able to provide.

  Mr. SMITH of Texas (during the reading). Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous 
consent that the Senate amendments be considered as read and printed in 
the Record.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the 
gentleman from Texas?
  There was no objection.
  Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I include for the Record the 
following letter from Philip Smith, Director of Lao Veterans of 
America, Inc.:
  Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to place the following letter in 
the Record.

                                Lao Veterans of America, Inc.,

                                     Washington, DC, May 22, 2000.
     Hon. Henry Hyde,
     Chairman, Judiciary Committee,
     House of Representatives, Washington, DC.
       Dear Chairman Hyde: Thank you for attending our National 
     Recognition Ceremonies, and serving as one of the keynote 
     speakers, to mark the 25th anniversary of the end of the 
     Vietnam War in Laos. We wish to express to you our deepest 
     gratitude for your leadership role in the House of 
     Representatives on behalf of the plight of the Hmong and Lao 
     veterans who served bravely with U.S. clandestine and 
     military forces in Laos during the Vietnam War. We would also 
     like to respond to the inquiry by your office about our 
     current position regarding the newly amended version of H.R. 
     371/S. 890, the Hmong Veterans Naturalization Act of 1999, 
     that passed the Senate on Thursday, May 18.
       First, the unanimous, bipartisan vote for passage, on May 
     2, in the House of Representatives, of H.R. 371, was made 
     possible largely because of your extraordinary leadership in 
     helping to forge a bipartisan coalition along with that of 
     Congressman Bruce Vento, the bill's courageous and determined 
     sponsor, and Congressman George Radanovich, the bill's key 
     Republican activist. At the time of passage in the House, 109 
     bipartisan Members of Congress were officially signed on as 
     cosponsors to H.R. 371. Many veterans organizations have also 
     endorsed it, including the American Legion, U.S. Special 
     Forces Assoc., National Vietnam Veterans Coalition, BRAVO, 
     and Counterparts. We are grateful for your work with 
     Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Smith as well as Minnesota 
     Governor Jesse Ventura, who both deserve significant credit 
     for the ultimate success of the legislation in the House, by 
     weighing-in at the critical time and helping to move the bill 
     forward.
       Second, with regard to the issue of the lack of records 
     maintained by the U.S. government on the Hmong and Lao 
     veterans, the Lao Veterans of America was very honored to be 
     cited by name in the legislation as an example of an 
     organization that could provide helpful input regarding the 
     military records of those Hmong and Lao veterans who served 
     in the U.S. Secret Army in Laos during the Vietnam War. As 
     the nation's largest Hmong and Lao non-profit veterans 
     organization, as well as the first such organization to be 
     established and incorporated in the United States (some ten 
     years ago), we maintain the nation's largest repository of 
     such records. The original records were destroyed in Laos at 
     the end of the Vietnam War. We are, therefore, pleased to 
     have been mentioned in the original legislation as an example 
     of an organization that might be helpful with such records 
     for the implementation of the bill's mandate. It is 
     indeed, honorable to have been cited in this way by so 
     many in the House and Senate who helped draft and 
     officially sign on as cosponsors to H.R. 371/S. 890. Thank 
     you for your thoughtfulness and kind consideration in this 
     regard. It is, indeed, fundamentally important for Hmong 
     and Lao veterans organizations, including organizations 
     such as the Lao Veterans of America, to have input with 
     regard to the military service records of the Hmong and 
     Lao veterans, since the U.S. CIA, Defense Department, and 
     Department of Justice have, apparently, only a very 
     limited number of records regarding those who actually 
     served and fought in the U.S. Secret Army in Laos.
       Third, with regard to Congressman Vento's heroism, it is 
     our hope that this legislation will help to serve as an 
     enduring tribute to him when he leaves office at the end of 
     the 106th Congress. Great men are those, who in time of 
     crisis, rise above their personal circumstances to lead for 
     the common good and help people overcome the common enemies 
     of mankind, such as injustice, ignorance and despair. It is 
     important, from our perspective, to stress that the 
     Congressman Bruce Vento's personal challenge with cancer 
     could easily, and understandably, have caused him to shrink 
     from assisting us further with the passage of the Hmong 
     veterans legislation. Instead, he redoubled his efforts, at 
     that of his staff, even from his hospital bed. We are humbled 
     and privileged to have had the honor to fight this battle on 
     behalf of citizenship for the Hmong and Lao veterans together 
     with Congressman Bruce Vento and you. For us, the struggle 
     for this legislation began some 10 years ago, when we first 
     began to work with Congressman Vento to develop this 
     legislation. Indeed, it has been a noble endeavor, at its 
     essence an issue of justice and honor for America and the 
     Hmong veterans. We feel honored to have worked with so many 
     great men, and giants, in Congress to press this long-overdue 
     legislation forward to passage in the House and Senate. 
     Providentially, it comes some 25 years, to the month, after 
     the exodus of the Hmong and Lao veterans of the U.S. Secret 
     Army from Laos in those bloody final weeks of 1975. Like 
     Congressman Vento, we share in the conviction that this is 
     one of our crowning achievements that will for generations 
     bless communities across America. It will honor the name of 
     those Hmong and Lao veterans of the U.S. Secret Army and 
     their American allies, and friends, who fought so valiantly 
     in this difficult struggle, both in the jungles of Southeast 
     Asia as well as in the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C.
       Fourth, with regard to your office's concern about the 
     amended version of S.890/H.R. 371 that passed the Senate last 
     week, we consider this legislation's passage historic and a 
     great victory for the Lao and Hmong veterans of the U.S. 
     Secret Army and their refugee families across the United 
     States. The Lao Veterans of America was pleased to work to 
     assist in playing a leadership role in the passage of this 
     important legislation. We laud its Senate sponsors, Senators 
     Paul

[[Page H3577]]

     Wellstone, Feingold and Robb, for their unflagging leadership 
     and support. Like its House counterpart (H.R. 371), S. 890 
     achieved overwhelming bipartisan support with over 17 
     Senators officially signing on the legislation. The only 
     exception was the alternative legislation introduced by 
     Senator Rod Grams. The Lao Veterans of America was able to 
     work with a bipartisan coalition of U.S. Senators and Hmong 
     and Lao veterans from across the United States to help 
     develop a compromise amendment regarding Senator Grams' 
     legislation. The final language of this amendment was forged 
     just last week.
       The Lao Veterans of America was particularly grateful to 
     have been consulted, and included, in helping to negotiate 
     and work out the final compromise regarding the amendment 
     offered to the legislation prior to the bill's final passage 
     in the Senate last week. Chairman Hatch as well as Senators 
     Leahy, Wellstone, Feingold, McCain, Kohl, Grassley, Kyl, 
     and Specter were particularly helpful in building bridges 
     and reaching across the aisle during the vigorous 
     negotiations that led to hammering out the final language 
     that was acceptable to all parties, including Senator 
     Grams' office.
       Fifth, Mr. Chairman, with regard to the serious issue of 
     timing, all along the major concern of the Lao Veterans of 
     America regarding this legislation, was the concern that we 
     know that you share: the Hmong Veterans Naturalization Act is 
     long overdue. Time is not an unlimited commodity for anyone. 
     When one confronts one's own mortality, and considers the 
     personal plight of the two original sponsors of this 
     legislation, both Congressman Vento in his battle with 
     cancer, as well as Senator Paul Wellstone and his legislative 
     director's, Michael Epstein's, battle with cancer, the 
     limitations of time become crystal clear.
       One of our key points to members of the Senate was the 
     grave concern shared by many across the political spectrum 
     that the Congress was running out of the necessary 
     legislative time in the 106th Congress to pass the bill, 
     especially if significant changes were made to the original 
     language of the Vento/Radanovich legislation (H.R. 371) that 
     passed the House. We believe that you and the Hmong veterans 
     successfully helped to communicate this point when nearly 
     5,000 of our members converged on Washington, DC, on May 10th 
     for the Lao Veterans of American National Recognition 
     Ceremonies marking the 25th anniversary of the end of the 
     Vietnam War in Laos.
       Mr. Chairman, it is important to note that the Hmong and 
     Lao veterans of the U.S. Secret Army waited twenty-two years, 
     for national recognition in 1997 at the Vietnam Memorial and 
     Arlington Cemetery. This was far too long and painful. 
     Likewise, they have worked nearly a decade for this 
     legislation, working hard and waiting far too many years for 
     H.R. 371/S. 890 to be passed by Congress. Indeed, since I 
     first began working on this legislation nearly ten years ago, 
     I have attended too many funerals for the Hmong and Lao 
     veterans, who have passed away without the dignity of being 
     citizens in the country that they gave the best years of 
     their lives fighting to assist.
       Final, Mr. Chairman, but by no means least, the passage of 
     S. 890/H.R. 371, as amended by the Senate, is first and 
     foremost a matter of sacred honor that is long-overdue. The 
     Hmong and Lao veterans of the U.S. Secret Army are not 
     honored by continuing to live in limbo without a country, as 
     mere aliens with green cards. Having been flown into battle 
     for the United States by the CIA's and the Defense 
     Department's, ``Air America,'' they wish to live and die as 
     American citizens. We thank you for your leadership role and 
     ask you to expeditiously seek to bring the amended version of 
     the bill to the House floor under unanimous consent for 
     immediate passage.
           Sincerely,
                                                     Philip Smith,
                                       Washington, D.C., Director.
  Mr. KIND. Mr. Speaker, I am a proud original cosponsor of H.R. 371, 
the Hmong Veteran's Naturalization Act, and I am pleased to see that 
this bill will be sent to the President's desk for his signature. This 
bill will allow the Hmong veterans who fought with the United States 
against the communist forces in Southeast Asia and their families to be 
naturalized. The measure will speed up the process by waiving the usual 
English proficiency and civics test requirements.
  Passage of this legislation ensures that we as a nation will never 
forget the toll the Vietnam War took on our allies and friends in 
Southeast Asia. Tremendous sacrifices were made by the Hmong people, 
with nearly 20,000 Hmong killed and over 100,000 fleeing to refugee 
camps in other nations to survive. Thankfully, due to the generosity, 
strength of will and compassion of the American people, approximately 
49,000 Hmong-Americans reside in Wisconsin today, of which, 
approximately 9,000 live in my district in western Wisconsin.
  Therefore, it is with immense gratitude, I commend the Hmong for 
their loyalty and faithfulness to the United States and thank them for 
the sacrifices they made to fight for democracy and justice. For this, 
we owe them a large debt of gratitude that can never be adequately 
repaid.
  Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas. Mr. Speaker, this is an important bill 
because the Hmong have stood by the U.S. at a crucial time in our 
history and now is the time to repay and honor the loyalty of Hmong 
veterans. The Hmong were a pre-literate society. They had no written 
language in use when the United States recruited them during the 
Vietnam War. The best symbol of why H.R. 371 is necessary is the Hmong 
``story cloth,'' the Pandau cloth, that is their embroidered cloth 
record of important historical events and oral traditions.
  I approve of the Senate language which simply states that the 
Attorney General ``may consider any documentation provided by 
organizations maintaining records with respect to Hmong veterans or 
their families.'' I am also gratified that it was made clear in the 
other body that the dropping of the Lao Veterans of America does not 
reflect adversely on that organization.
  I join Chairman Smith in commending Lao Veterans of America for its 
tireless efforts for the Hmong. I too also commend our colleague, the 
gentleman from Minnesota, Mr. Vento, for his sponsorship of this 
legislation and urge my colleagues to pass it.
  The Hmong were critical to the American war strategy in S.E. Asia--
especially the U.S. air strategy. Mr. Speaker this legislation provides 
for the expedited naturalization of Hmong veterans of the U.S. Secret 
Army currently residing in the United States (as legal aliens) who 
served with U.S. clandestine and special forces during the Vietnam War 
by allowing them to take the citizenship test with a translator since 
the Hmong are a tribal people with no written language, thus relying 
solely on the ``story cloths''. The bill is capped at 45,000, in terms 
of the total of number of Hmong veterans, their widows and orphans who 
currently reside in the United States who would fall under the 
legislation. This cap is supported by the Hmong veterans in the United 
States and is considered to be a generous cap. I support this 
legislation to provide relief to the Hmong heroes.
  Mr. CONYERS. Mr. Speaker, The Hmong Veterans' Naturalization Act of 
1999, was introduced by Representative Vento. It provides long overdue 
assistance for the naturalization requirements of U.S. citizenship to a 
valiant group of people who fought for our country many years ago. 
Between 130,000 and 150,000 Laotian Hmong have entered the United 
States as refugees since 1975. Many have found it difficult to 
naturalize because of cultural obstacles to learning how to read 
English. This is due in part to the fact that the culture of the Hmong 
did not include a written form of their language until recent decades.
  H.R. 371 would exempt the Hmong naturalization applicants from the 
English language requirements if they have served with special 
guerrilla units or irregular forces operating from bases in Laos in 
support of the United States during the Vietnam War (or were spouses or 
widows of such persons on the day on which such persons applied for 
admission as refugees).
  This legislation passed the House by voice vote on May 2 and I have 
no problem with the Senate amendments concerning the certification 
requirement which were technical in nature.
  Mr. VENTO. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the Senate amended H.R. 
371, The Hmong Veterans Naturalizaton Act.
  I would like to thank the distinguished gentleman from Texas, 
Representative, Lamar Smith for his leadership throughout this process 
and his support on the House floor today. In addition, I would like to 
acknowledge the efforts of Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Russ 
Feingold, Senator Paul Wellston, and Senator Herb Kohl. Their support 
and determination in working out the final language of the bill helped 
secure passage of H.R. 371 last week in the Senate. Moreover, I would 
like to mention the support of the Lao Veterans of America, the largest 
Lao-Hmong organization in the nation, which has been actively working 
on this legislation for over 10 years.
  Today, we finally honor the Lao-Hmong patriots for their sacrifice 
and service to the United States during the Vietnam War. It has been 
twenty-five years since the fall of Saigon and the last American troops 
pulled out of Southeast Asia. Events that have been relived these past 
months, harsh memories of Vietnam that are unpleasant to all Americans. 
While the Vietnam War is over for America, the plight of our friends 
and allies within this region and Laos must be remembered.
  Lao-Hmong soldier, as young as ten years old, were recruited, fought 
and died along side 58,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, and airmen in 
Vietnam. As a result of their bravery and loyalty to the U.S., the Lao-
Hmong were tragically over run by the Communist forces and lost their 
homeland and status in Laos after the Vietnam War. Between 10,000 and 
20,000 Lao-Hmong were killed in combat-related incidents and over 
100,000 had to flee to refugee camps and other nations to survive.
  In the Minnesota area today, approximately 60,000 Lao-Hmong know the 
Minnesota region as their new home. Many of the older Lao-Hmong 
patriots who made it to the U.S.

[[Page H3578]]

are separated from their family members and have had a difficult time 
adjusting to many aspects of life and culture in the U.S., including 
passing aspects of the required citizenship test. Learning to read in 
English has been the greatest obstacle for the Lao-Hmong because 
written characters in the Hmong language have only been introduced in 
recent years. In addition, their long participation and service to U.S. 
forces in the Southeast Asian military conflict significantly disrupted 
any chance Lao-Hmong patriots may have had to learn a written language.
  The Hmong Veterans Naturalization Act would help the process of 
family reunification and finally ease the adjustment of the Lao-Hmong 
into our U.S. society. Specifically H.R. 371 would waive the English 
language requirement for Lao-Hmong who served in special Guerrilla 
Units in Laos during the Vietnam War. This legislation would effect 
individuals who today reside legally in the United States. It would not 
open new immigration channels nor would the bill give the Lao-Hmong 
veteran's status to make them eligible for veteran benefits. Moreover, 
the bill establishes strict criteria for approval and sets a cap of 
45,000 to who may benefit from this legislation.
  This is an historic opportunity to recognize and in some small way 
honor the loyalty and address a key problem of the older Lao-Hmong 
family members who are continuing to have a difficult time adjusting to 
life here in the USA. Fortunately, there is something positive we can 
do to help the process of family reunification and finally ease the 
adjustment of Hmong into U.S. society. It is time to move forward with 
action and grant citizenship to the Lao-Hmong patriots--who have after 
all passed a more important test than a language test. They risked 
their lives for American values and to save U.S. service personnel.
  The Lao-Hmong people stood honorably by the United States at a 
critical time in our Nation's history. Today, we should stand with the 
Lao-Hmong in their struggle to become U.S. citizens and to live a good 
life in the United States. The Lao-Hmong already passed the hardest 
test of their lives in service to the United States. Now, their 
dedication and service deserves proper recognition.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the original request 
of the gentleman from Texas?
  There was no objection.
  A motion to reconsider was laid on the table.



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