Hmong immigrants

Significance: The Hmong are one of the most recent Asian immigrant groups to come to the United States. Their main home is in the northern mountain regions of Laos. The Hmong and other Laotian immigrants were helped by the passage of the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975 in their efforts to relocate after the Vietnam War ended.

Shaman conducting a traditional good-luck ritual for members of a Hmong family preparing to leave a Thai refugee camp for the United States in 2004

Shaman conducting a traditional good-luck ritual for members of a Hmong family preparing to leave a Thai refugee camp for the United States in 2004. (Getty Images)

The Hmong people have no significant history of immigration to the United States before 1970. By the year 2000, Hmong immigrants numbered around 170,000 according to U.S. Census data. When they began migrating to the United States, they were encouraged by various settlement agencies to disperse throughout the country. However, because of their kinship patterns and collectivist nature, they instead tended to congregate within communities where other Hmong lived. Consequently, 89 percent of these immigrants settled in California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan.

American Involvement with the Hmong

During the Vietnam War, Hmong villagers worked alongside the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in their fight against the North Vietnamese in what has been called a "secret war” in Laos. Their assistance on what was supposed to be neutral territory resulted in problems for Hmong veterans on several different levels. After the South Vietnam capital of Saigon fell to North Vietnamese forces and the war ended, Laos was taken over by Pathet Lao communist forces, and the Hmong were targeted for reprisals because of their support of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. At risk of severe retaliation from the Lao government, Hmong and other Laotian exiles escaped to Thailand, where they were placed in refugee camps. Upon resettlement to the United States, the Hmong immigrants achieved refugee status largely because of their war efforts on behalf of the Americans as well as their need to escape the communist regime in Laos.

Profile of Hmong immigrants

Countries of origin

Laos and Vietnam

Primary language


Primary regions of U.S. settlement

California, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin

Earliest significant arrivals


Peak immigration period


Twenty-first century legal residents*

30,000 (estimated; 3,750 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States. Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

Immigration After 1975

In response to the plight of Indochinese communities such as the Hmong after the Vietnam War, the U.S. Congress enacted legislation to enable Southeast Asian refugees to come to the United States. Many immigrants from that region were well educated and possessed valuable job skills. In contrast, however, a large part of the Hmong immigrants were poorly educated and were unskilled workers, as most had been farmers in their home country, and other aspects of the Hmong economy were not highly advanced. These factors, among others, influenced group assimilation processes even though American officials and citizens were initially supportive of Hmong migration.

Between 1981 and 1986, only a few thousand Hmongrefugees came to the United States. Admissions picked up between 1987 and 1994, when more than 50,000 Hmong entered the country. From 2004 until 2006, pressure fromhuman rights groups contributed to the resettlement to the United States of an additional 15,000 Hmong immigrants from a refugee camp in Thailand. Afterward, immigration from northern Laos to the United States slowed.

Hmong in the United States

Hmong communities in the United States have stabilized. U.S. government estimates indicate that between 170,000 and 186,000 Hmong were living in the United States by 2008. However, estimates from nongovernment sources have suggested that there may actually be between 250,000 and 300,000. About 60,000Hmongreside in the state of Minnesota, with about 30,000 in the Minneapolis- St. Paul area alone. The firstHmongrefugees came from a subsistence and agrarian background, but later waves of immigrants came with some knowledge of technology and Western culture. Overall, the American Hmong population was young and highly urban by the year 2009. In fact, the Minneapolis- St. Paul area has the largest Hmong urban population in the world. The majority of Hmong Minnesotans have already become second- or third-generation American-born citizens.

With a relatively short history in the United States, the Hmong still struggle with cultural identity issues. The initial culture shock that occurred during their first wave of immigration resulted in a slower assimilation rate than was anticipated, even though some younger Hmong Americans adapted relatively quickly. The Hmong have not abandoned their collectivist family structures and this has helped them achieve a level of economic stability. Like those of Vietnamese immigrants, Hmong families often pool resources and incomes in order to buy homes, businesses, and cars.

In Minnesota, Hmong residents generate more than $100 million in revenues annually and entrepreneurs have successfully revitalized the University Avenue area of St. Paul. Even though the first wave of Hmong immigrants was not as prepared to cope with the technologically advanced capitalistic society of the United States, over the years they have become upwardly mobile, a situation that indicates a positive future.

Dianne Dentice

Further Reading

Barr, Linda. Long Road to Freedom: Journey of the Hmong. Bloomington, Minn.: Red Brick Learning, 2004. Account of the plight of Hmong refugees during the early twenty-first century. 

Faderman, Lillian, and Ghia Xiong. I Begin My Life All Over: The Hmong and the American Immigrant Experience. Boston: Beacon, 1998. Collection of thirty-five Hmong immigrant narratives that emphasizes generational differences. 

Keown-Bomar, Julie. Kinship Networks Among Hmong-American Refugees. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2004. Thorough sociological study of Hmong immigrants. 

Mote, Sue Murphy. Hmong and American: Stories of Transition to a Strange Land. Jefferson, N.C.: Mc- Farland, 2004. Another collection of Hmong immigrant narratives. 

Parrillo, Vincent. Strangers to These Shores. 9th ed. Boston: Allyn&Bacon, 2008. General treatment of race and ethnic relations with a section on Laotian immigration that emphasizes Hmong immigrants. 

Schaefer, Richard T. Racial and Ethnic Groups. 11th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2007. General textbook on American ethnic groups that includes a case study of a Hmong community in Wausau, Wisconsin. 

Sherman, Spencer. "The Hmong in America: Laotian Refugees in the Land of the Giants.” National Geographic (October, 1988).Well-illustrated description of Hmong communities in North Carolina and California. 

See also: Asian immigrants; Immigration waves; Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975; Laotian immigrants; Minnesota; Refugees; Tennessee; Thai immigrants; Vietnam War.

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Honduran immigrants

Significance: Honduran immigration into the United States is a relatively recent phenomenon, but the 81 percent increase of Hondurans coming into the country during the first decade of the twenty-first century, was the largest of any immigrant group. Their numbers rose fromapproximately 160,000 in 2000 to 300,000 in 2008.

Until the fourth decade of the twentieth century, U.S. Census data did not count immigrants from individual Central American nations. In any case, the numbers of Hondurans immigrating to the United States before 1930 was small, and even during the decade of the 1930’s, only 679 Hondurans entered the country legally. The numbers of immigrants remained low into the 1960’s, when a significant increase began. During that decade, 15,078 Hondurans were granted legal permanent resident status in the United States. By the last year of the twentieth century, an average of more than 7,100 new immigrants per year were coming from Honduras. The 2000 U.S. Census recorded a total of 282,852 Hondurans living in the United States legally. However, these numbers do not include the large numbers of undocumented immigrants. By the year 2008, it was estimated that nearly 1 million Hondurans resided in the United States. Of that number, as many as 70 percent were estimated to be in the country illegally.

Many of the most recent Honduran immigrants to enter the United States legally have been granted temporary protected status because of the devastation in Central America left by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. That status was extended several times, including an extension to July of 2010; it grants work authorization and protection from deportation but does not assure permanent residency. As many as 80,000 Hondurans came to the United States under temporary protected status.

Profile of Honduran immigrants

Country of origin Honduras
Primary language Spanish
Primary regions of U.S. settlement California, Washington, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Texas, Nebraska
Earliest significant arrivals Early twentieth century
Peak immigration period 1980’s-2008
Twenty-first century legal residents* 52,534 (6,567 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

Push-Pull Factors

A combination of economic hardship and natural disasters has led to the increase in Honduran immigration. Most Hondurans are small-scale farmers with average income of only $1,700 per year. During the first decade of the twenty-first century, it was estimated that 59 percent of all Hondurans were living below the poverty line. Approximately 20 percent of adults were illiterate, and 25 percent of the children were chronically malnourished.

Immigration from Honduras, 1930-2008

Immigration from Honduras, 1930-2008

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status.

The 1998 arrival of Hurricane Mitch in Central America proved to be one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit Honduras. The hurricane caused great additional economic hardships in what was already a desperately poor country. Entire fruit fields were destroyed, resulting in the departure of many multinational fruit companies that were important employers. Record amounts of rainfall caused mudslides that wiped out entire villages. Back roads and bridges were destroyed, and as much as 70 to 80 percent of the national transportation infrastructure was ruined. Seven thousand people died, and more than 20 percent of the entire population were left homeless after the hurricane. During the months directly following the hurricane, the U.S. Border Patrol reported a 61 percent increase in captures of Hondurans trying to cross the border into the United States.

Hondurans in the United States

Honduran transnational communities strive to maintain ties with their hometowns while creating new homes for themselves in the United States. The flow of migrants has a direct impact on Honduran communities in both countries, creating an exchange of cultures that changes both. Honduran residents of the United States account for 40 percent of all tourism revenue in Honduras.

Hurricane Mitch in Central America, 1998

Hurricane Mitch in Central America, 1998

Many Hondurans work in the United States in order to send remittances to relatives still in Honduras. In 2007, the Honduran foreign ministry reported that $2.8 billion in remittances were sent to Honduras by workers in the United States. Remittances directly affect the receiving families, lifting many of them out of poverty. They also add to the economic disparity in communities, creating a clear distinction between those who receive them and those who do not. However, some observers feel that remittances can create a dependence on charity that does little to improve the economic development of Honduras.

Hondurans who try to travel to the United States to find work face difficult and dangerous journeys that require passing through Guatemala and Mexico. Peril and discomforts include rape, exposure to severe heat in desert areas, long separations from family, robbery, accidents, and even murder. Engaging professional guides known as "coyotes” can cost as much as five thousand dollars. It has been estimated that only 25 percent of the approximately 80,000 Hondurans who have tried to reach the United States each year since 1998 have succeeded.

Many of the Hondurans who have immigrated to the United States have flourished. However, a less positive result of Honduran immigration has been the development of youth gangs. During the 1990’s, the U.S. government targeted undocumented residents in the penal system for deportation. Many of these former criminals were also gang members who recommenced their gangster lifestyle upon return to Honduras, creating transnational ties with gangs in the United States.

Elizabeth Ellen Cramer

Further Reading

  • Duffy, Maureen P., and Scott Edward Gillig. Teen Gangs: A Global View. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004. Discusses teen gang activity in fourteen countries, including Honduras. 
  • González, Juan. Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America. New York: Viking Press, 2000. General history of Latin American immigration into the United States, including that from Central and South American nations. 
  • Nazario, Sonia. Enrique’s Journey. New York: Random House, 2006. True story about an elevenyear- old Honduran boy’s epic journey to the United States to find the mother who went north to find work when he was only five years old. Based on a prize-winning series of stories first published in the Los Angeles Times, for which Nazario was a feature writer. 
  • Salgado, Sebastião, and Lélia Wanick Salgoda. Migrations: Humanity in Transition. New York: Aperture, 2001. Photojournalistic work depicting displaced populations of the world, including Hondurans in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. 
  • Schmalzbauer, Leah. Striving and Surviving: A Daily Life Analysis of Honduran Transnational Families. New York: Routledge, 2005. Focusing on Honduran families in the United States, this volume investigates the role of the family in transnational communities. 

See also: El Rescate; Farm and migrant workers; Guatemalan immigrants; History of immigration after 1891; Illegal immigration; Latin American immigrants; Louisiana; Push-pull factors; Salvadoran immigrants; Sanctuary movement; Smuggling of immigrants.

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