By Louis Chan, AsAmNews National Correspondent
Two civil rights organizations are joining together in support of a lawsuit filed by 9 people alleging that local water restrictions are intended to drive Hmong Americans out of the area.
Hmong began settling in Siskiyou County at the California-Oregon border in 2015 and turned land described by Glenn Katon, litigation director at Advancing Justice, Asian Law Caucus as “uninhabitable” into fertile soil.
“Their arrival and success has caused some members of the community to want to drive them out,” Katon told AsAmNews during a phone interview.
On Friday, both the Asian Law Caucus and ACLU filed a friend of court brief supporting the lawsuit alleging the “targeting and discrimination of Asian people, particularly the Hmong people.”
The Board of Supervisors last May passed an ordinance allowing authorities to cite any water truck delivering more than 100 gallons of water. The County says the measures are aimed at attacking the proliferation of illegal marijuana grows in the area. The friend of court brief charges the restrictions are aimed directly at the Shasta Vista, a subdivision which is 75% Hmong.
“The law specifically mentions roads where you can’t transport water and those are roads where Hmong community is predominant,” said Angela Chan, senior staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus. “That’s a big indication that it’s a racially motivated ordinance.”
In an affidavit filed by Edward Szendrey, a private investigator, he writes that he witnessed a Hmong couple drawing water from a stream in a park and then carrying that water 200 feet to their car. They stated they had driven 20 miles to get that water.
In a separate incident, Szendrey says on May 11 deputies stopped Karen Vang asking her to prove the 100 gallons of water she carried would not be used for a marijuana grow. They continued to follow her home.
On June 7, Szendrey says he interviewed Long Herr and his wife Xia Herr. He said authorities seized the truck they were using to deliver 4,000 gallons of water to an unidentified friend. The Herrs told Szendrey they knew about the ordinance, but felt their friend would die if he did not get the badly needed water.
The lawsuit filed by the 9 Hmong residents names the county, the Board of Supervisors and County Sheriff and Coroner Jeremiah Larue.
“Law enforcement in Siskiyou County does not target any person by race, religion, creed, ethnicity or any other personal characteristic,” Larue told AsAmNews in an email. “We enforce laws based upon the laws being violated. If we see a violation, we will enforce our laws regardless of the race of an individual. We target crime not people.”
He alleges there are 1700 parcels in the Shasta Vista subdivision which are “mostly occupied by Hmong and Chinese individuals that grow illegal cannabis.”
However Katon cites the county’s own data which identified only 80 illegal grows in that subdivision out of a county-wide total of 2500.
He accused Sheriff Larue in speaking about the Hmong community in “broad stereotypes.”
“The Sheriff talked about ‘these people’ do not follow our laws,” said Katon. “That’s dog whistle language that the Hmong community is not part of the community. That is really concerning.”
Tensions over the water restrictions exploded during the recent Lava Fire. Officers and deputies from the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department, the Etna Police Department and the California Department of Fish & Wildlife shot and killed Hawj as he tried to get to his farm, defying evacuation orders.
“There is concern from the Hmong community that they are not getting the same protections against fires that the White community is getting,” said Chan. “They’re not getting support from emergency service. That plus denial of access to water.”
AsAmNews also reached out to the Sikiyou County Administrators office, but did not hear back by deadline.