Del Norte High School has finally found its calling: cultural awareness. Not only was there a rally Thursday morning celebrating the many cultures at the high school, but after spring break, the school will be driving toward a more political aspect: Hmong refugees and the USA Patriot Act.
Under provisions of the USA Patriot Act and the Real I.D. Act, the Hmong who fought alongside the Americans in the "secret war" against the Communist Laos government are now considered "terrorists" and are therefore ineligible for asylum or green cards. Ironically enough, those acts were passed by the same Congress that in 2000 approved a law easing the citizenship requirements for the Hmong in recognition of their Vietnam War efforts.
If the Patriot Act is interpreted literally, a terrorist is one whom their government of residence deems a traitor, whether due to U.S. influence or not, and thus not granted amnesty. In a Jan. 12 Washington Post article, a White House administration staff member claimed, "The language (of the Patriot Act) may have been an unintended effect."
Recently, the Thai government underwent a coup, or a change in government style. The new government has been forcibly deporting Hmong refugees back into Laos, where they are beaten, tortured, and sometimes killed. Many of these refugees are held in White Water City, where patrols are very strict and escapees are locked behind bars.
The anti-terror restrictions, which have ensnared other groups as well, also bar those who provided "material support" to terrorist organizations. Recently, the Bush administration announced that it was granting waivers of that restriction to eight groups, but, as of yet, the Hmong was not among them.
There is hope, though. Since 2000, about 15,000 Hmong refugees have been reported as transferred to the United States. Efforts are also being made byoutside countries, such as France and Japan.
At Del Norte High School, two of these refugees, Bao Lee and Nhia Vang, are now students. Vang arrived with her family a little more than a year ago; Lee arrived in November, and the rest of her family should be coming within the next year after her brother is healthy again.
Both girls used to reside in Thumkabol, a small patch in Thailand just outside of the White Water. Of the previous 1,500 inhabitants, only 120 remain to be deported. Sixteen other refugees arrived with Lee, as only healthy refugees are admitted. The sick are left until they return to full health, and then they are deported. While they lived in Thumkabol, the girls' main fear was being transferred to another city, such as White Water.
Following spring break, an effort will be made by Del Norte High School students to secure the Hmong a waiver.
"Community awareness and letter-writing campaigns will be our main focus," said Cheryl Bradley, a Del Norte High English teacher who has been working with students on the campaign. "We really want this waiver."
With some effort, they can get it. America is proving to be just what the doctor ordered for Hmong refugees.
When Lee and Vang were asked if they liked living in America, both simultaneously nodded their heads and said "Yes, more freedom. No more fears."
Amanda Snowden is a Del Norte High School senior and a journalism apprentice at The Daily Triplicate.