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Meeting held to clarify rules for Hmong veterans to become citizens

DATELINE: ST. PAUL, July 5, 2000, Wednesday

Hmong veterans who fought with the CIA during the Vietnam War still have to take a civics test and meet other requirements before becoming a U.S. citizen, officials said Wednesday at a meeting organized to clarify a new law.

The law simply waives the English language requirement for some veterans, allowing them to have an interpreter translate the questions and answers.

"It is important that we get the word out," said Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.

The bill, enacted May 26, was the culmination of a decade-long effort to make it easier for Hmong and other veterans who fought for the United States in Laos from Feb. 28, 1961 to Sept. 18, 1978. Spouses who were married to a qualified veteran on the day the veteran entered the U.S. as a refugee also may qualify for special consideration.

Misinformation about the law prompted the meeting, attended by about three dozen people, including Immigration and Naturalization Service representatives, immigration lawyers, staff for Wellstone, Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minn., other officials and Hmong residents.

John Keller, an attorney with the Immigrant Law Center, warned people who may have "red flags" on their records to contact a lawyer before applying or they might be denied or even deported. Some of these include having been arrested, failing to pay child support or voting illegally in the United States.

The deadline for filing under the Hmong Naturalization Act is Nov. 26, 2001. A limit of 45,000 veterans and spouses can qualify for special consideration.

The Immigration Law Center will hold a training session from 2:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m. on what documents are needed and how to apply.

For more information, call the Immigration and Naturalization Service at 1-800-375-5283, the Immigrant Law Center at 651-291-0110 or Sen. Paul Wellstone's office at 651-645-0323.