Fueled by granola (fishnet_hamster) wrote in ontd_political,
Fueled by granola

Man sues to get passport back to go home to die


Unlike most people caught up in the U.S. immigration system, John Doe Xiong, an 88-year-old Laotian who fought on the American side during the Vietnam War, doesn't want to stay in the United States. He wants to return to his home country to die.

All he needs, he says, is his Laotian passport, which immigration officers took in April 2008 and refuse to return. Xiong is asking a federal judge in San Francisco to retrieve the document and order the government to pay damages for withholding it.

"Mr. Xiong saved the lives of American pilots at the risk of his own, and now the immigration service won't even return his passport," said his lawyer, Kenneth Seeger. "He is a virtual hostage."

He filed the suit as John Doe Xiong (using his real last name, a common surname in Laos) to try to conceal his identity from the Laotian government, which imprisoned him for more than seven years after the war, Seeger said.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency seized Xiong's passport when he applied for political asylum. Its regional spokeswoman, Lori Haley, declined to explain why the agency had taken the document or why it would not return it to Xiong, saying she would not comment on a pending case.

But she said her agency "will often retain passports if it is determined that further review of the document is warranted."

'I want to go back'
Seeger, however, maintained that the agency had no authority to seize the passport in the first place, has no need for it now and is hanging onto it out of "bureaucratic stubbornness."

Xiong, speaking through an interpreter from his home in Visalia (Tulare County), said he is "very frustrated."

"I'm not in good health now," he said. "My wife and children are still back in Laos. I want to go back and see them before anything happens and I die."

Xiong, according to the lawsuit, was captain of a company of Hmong tribesmen allied with U.S. forces during a secretive war against communist troops moving supplies between North and South Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. Between 30,000 and 35,000 Hmong were killed before the leftist Pathet Lao gained control of the country in 1975, two years after the U.S. withdrawal.

Xiong no longer remembers many details of the war, he said last week, but he recalls one time that he led tribesmen who rescued a group of Americans from a downed airplane and hid them from the Pathet Lao.

Xiong said his loyalties are unchanged, despite his current dispute with the U.S. government.

After he returns to Laos, he said, "if there's a war again that I have to risk my life, I will always help the Americans."

Sent to prison camp
Tens of thousands of Hmong fled Laos after the Pathet Lao took power and were granted asylum in the United States and other countries, but Xiong was captured and sent to a prison camp. He was released in 1983 and spent several years under government supervision, then slipped away with his wife and children to avoid arrest, the suit said.

After more than 20 years of moving furtively among Hmong villages, the suit said, Xiong obtained a U.S. visa through a sister in California and came to the United States in 2007. He left behind his wife and 16 children.

He applied for asylum a year later, but an asylum officer said he found contradictions in Xiong's story and referred the case to an immigration judge, who is not scheduled to hear it until next year, Seeger said. He said Xiong had been required to surrender his passport at the asylum hearing.

Meanwhile, Seeger said, Xiong has become ill and depressed, misses his family, and wants to die in Laos and be buried according to the Hmong tradition.

Deportation option
The lawyer said immigration officials had told him that the only way Xiong can return to Laos without a passport is by being deported. He would first have to spend at least six months in custody, an ordeal he might not survive, Seeger said.

The lawsuit, filed May 10 in U.S. District Court, seeks to let Xiong return on his own, with unspecified damages against government officials for acting in "willful and conscious disregard of (his) rights."

"His days of fighting are far behind him," the suit said. "He wants only to spend his final days in his homeland."
Tags: immigration

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