Law makes it easier for Hmong vets to become U.S. citizens

Many Hmong veterans of the Vietnam War who are legal aliens in the United States will now have greater opportunity to become citizens, thanks to a bill that was approved recently by Congress and signed by the president.

The bill exempts former Hmong soldiers who secretly served under the American Army during the Vietnam War from having to speak English to get American citizenship. The Hmong are mountain dwellers who for as many as 5,000 years have fiercely resisted subjugation by other, larger groups.

Oroville resident Nao Pao Yang, a Hmong veteran, sees the law as a privilege but said the process to earn his citizenship was still difficult.

“They were easier on me because I showed them my army badge and pictures of me when I was in the [Laotian] army at age 11. But they still made it hard on me during the interview,” Nao said.

His wife, Ying, agrees. She says the bill is not a free ride.

“It’s not easy,” said Ying. “You have to learn everything and the rules. I know people who went to take the test in Hmong, and they said it was still very difficult because you still don’t understand the way the American system works.”

Embattled Rep. Gary Condit (D-Modesto) sponsored the bill.

“These soldiers, some as young as 10 years old, were recruited and fought bravely alongside U.S. soldiers in South East Asia in Laotian-based special guerrilla units,” Condit stated in a press release.

When the American troops entered the Vietnam War, the U.S. agreed to compensate the Hmong soldiers who fought with them for wartime losses when the fighting was over. However, once the communist government took control, American troops withdrew from the jungles of Southeast Asia, and the Hmong were left behind.

Legislative supporters of the bill believe that the dedication and service the Hmong soldiers gave during the Vietnam War should not be ignored.

"It would be shameful not to recognize their dedication and service. As a result of their bravery and loyalty, they suffered horribly at the hands of Communist forces. They lost their homeland in Laos, and more than 100,000 were forced to flee refugee camps and other nations to survive," Condit stated.