Why OC Should Pay Attention to Trump’s Visa Sanctions Against Laos and Myanmar

Illustration by Lalo Alcaraz

By Sandra De Anda

This Sunday, my partner and I spent the day eating Laotian dishes and drinking Beerlao brews at Royal King Restaurant, a small but bustling hole-in-the-wall in Garden Grove. By early noon, all the tables were taken with the weekend lunch rush. By meal’s end, I felt full with food, but also with frustration. Just six days ago, the Trump Administration put in motion its latest round of anti-immigrant policies.

“On July 10, The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced, in coordination with the State Department, the implementation of visa sanctions on Burma and Laos due to lack of cooperation in accepting their citizens who have been ordered removed the United States,” the DHS website read. The visa sanctions are levied against high-ranking officials from both countries, but could extend into the greater population if they don’t accept Trump’s deportees. 

This latest development comes at no surprise. Even the statement itself is ill-informed because the United States still fails to recognize the sovereign state Myanmar in its own name. 

It is estimated that about 2,588 Laotians live in Orange County. At one point, the population was sizable enough in the early 90’s that Seng Chidhalay, a Laotian immigrant, served as editor and publisher of Laos Sampanth, the first Laotian Newspaper in Southern California that was also distributed worldwide for the Lao diaspora. And he did it from an office in Santa Ana. Apart from that, Laotian families continue to be close neighbors on my side of the city to this day. 

It is estimated that around 5,000 Myanmarese live in Los Angeles, but some make the leap to OC. Ashley Yu, a 27-year-old organizer with the Korean Resource Center, tells Orange County Immigrant Youth United a little more about her family’s trek to the U.S.

“My whole family is from Myanmar,” Yu says. “There’s multiple reasons why my family came to live here.” The activist cites her grandfather’s recollection of the Burmese Citizenship Law of 1982 as a time of widespread discrimination. Later that decade, political upheaval came in the form of the 8888 uprising and the military coup that crushed it. “My family had to leave for better opportunities,” Yu says. “The Trump Administration is just playing games with people’s lives. If they want to put [visa] sanctions, it won’t be effective. Past administrations have been working towards building a strong relationship with Myanmar.”

For now, it seems that the list of visa sanctions and other forms of exclusionary policies upholding “national security” will be growing as this administration runs rampant with power. Naranjeros should stay well informed about our own affected communities, no matter how big or small, to draw lines of solidarity.

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