Akha Chronicles
Book 1: Maesai
Chapter 42: Akha Refugees



Akha Refugees


The Akha Of Sacramento

I came to know of the Akha of Sacramento quite by accident, though it had occurred to me that some Akha might come into the US with the Hmong from Wat Thom Krabok in Thailand.


What might have been a straight forward process ended up being a matter of dealing with a lot of “Lords of the Poor” in Sacramento. America is NOT nearly the place of freedom that the US claims to be, if you are a minority fallen into the system or the hands of OTHER minorities. Lets face it.


In addition to finding out that Akha families HAD come into the US with the Hmong, and that the Sacramento Refugee “handlers” covered it up and prevented them from getting services, I also discovered that there had been many Akha stolen by the Mien and brought to the US because those children contacted me and I met them.


My report at the time follows.


Rough notes on the investigation into the Akha refugees and Akha trafficked into Sacramento.

Akha Woman X, she said that was her name, but she needed an Akha name, so the spirit woman in Thailand named her Booh Daw.

She was much the same look as my wife, she called me, told me that she had seen my wife’s picture and that she thought that it looked like her and wanted to talk, and thus unfolded the story of all the Akha who had been brought to the US illegally as stolen children by various groups who were already in the US, smuggling in the children of other people, never to know who they were or where their parents, brothers and sisters had gone. There are no orphans in Akha, everyone is related to someone, so anyone with an Akha they claim is an orphan is using a western word for a western lie.

Ms. X came in the door and I would have known her for Akha had I seen her anywhere, 19, a face with Akha in it so deep there was no hiding it.

We talked. I wondered what the missionaries were doing with all those children, how many special favor adoptions there were?

We now knew that there were many Akha smuggled into the US. Some taken, some in a form of debt bondage. All in the good ole US of A.

Akha Refugee and Trafficking Document
March 2, 2005
Matthew McDaniel
The Akha Heritage Foundation
PO BOX 6973
Salem, OR
. 97304
916-769-9937 / 503-510-3056

Initial project started in October when I got news that Hmong were being relocated to Sacramento from Wat Thom Krabok in Thailand.

Although I had heard of the project when it was announced in Thailand, this was the first direct newspaper and related information I had gotten in the US.

In October I began distributing a flyer, announcing our search for Akha speaking refugees in the event that some had come in with the Hmong.

This hunch was confirmed when an African American worker at the Bowling office of the Sac County Dept. of Human Assistance office told us there were two Akha families who had come in there.

I then began searching for other details in the case of Akha refugees in the area and trying to confirm that the Akha families were in fact receiving adequate services including language.

I began going to all agencies related to the refugee projects and leaving them with contact flyers offering free translating service 24/7 in Akha language.

I contacted numerous refugee related NGO’s and government agencies.

These were my experiences and impressions as I worked on this project over five months in the Sacramento area.


I talked to the following people, not necessarily in order.

It became very apparent that all these people were communicating and agreeing to cover this all up.

First I sent emails to a whole network of refugee agencies, which are non profit, and they all answered that they had never heard of the Akha but would let me know. This went as far south as Orange County and to Minnesota as well. Considering what I know now this is pretty incredible. To a person there was total denial of any Akha here. If you are in the refugee business and people tell you they don’t know the difference between an Akha and a Hmong they are in the wrong business.

There is also a task force on refugees that is run or organized in part by Roy Kim who is listed below.

His org is SETA and receives funding from the state and possibly federal by that means.


Names and contacts:
Mr. Xeng
Goes to Elk Grove Hmong Church.
cell 916-271-8328

he works for World Rellief.
I contacted Mr. Vang. Exec. Director
Hmong Association of Geen Bay Wisconsin.
fx 920-437-4916

Steve Maganini is with the Sacramento Bee. Despite the fact that there is a good sized Hmong network in Sacramento, the Bee doesn’t have a Hmong reporter on their staff for Hmong related issues. A problem in this town.

Steve Maganini shows little awareness or sensitivity to ethnic issues or data. He also runs a private photo website with his photographer. So there is an issue of data mining the Hmong via his job that has secondary purposes of profit etc. Apart from the news they generate, Steve appears to have little first hand knowledge of the Hmong or involvement. They have however presented him with data for stories over a long period of time.

He is sort of the Hmong writer.

But, he was in emails that were cc’d to me, but denied any knowledge or access to the Akha refugee families, though he had access to take many photos of them in the group, on arrival to Sacramento and as well as going to the camp, which is of course public. He also published photos of the refugees in their homes in Sacramento, although I didn’t see any pics in these articles of any Akha.

However, I don’t know if he knows who the Akha families are. He has repeatedly asked me to talk about it, since he has no connection to know the Akha story without talking to me, but since I saw his name in emails designed to keep the story secret, I have also refused to give him information.

Ted Vang is in Chico. He is with the International Resettlement Committee. IRC. He also said he doesn’t know of any Akha. The state department gives the refugees to four major agencies. IRC, World Relief, Opening Doors and Catholic Relief Services. From there they connect to other orgs like Hmong Women’s Foundation on Florin road south sac, or Lao family on Franklin Road, and ESL classes, SETA etc.

IRC in San Francisco also denied knowing any Akha or how they got here and said that they didn’t EVER know who they were talking to or who slipped in. Unbelieveable that people who are in the refugee business don’t know after years who they are talking to, so my first assumption is that they are aware of the network, and are covering it up.

David Thao is the IRC for Sacramento. He is Hmong.

Dave Mowery is the deputy director for the Sac. County dept. of human assistance. He works in the office of Lee Saunders, the director. He said he was very concerned with the situation and wanted to get to the bottom of it. Then he became very angry a few days later and denied the whole thing etc.

He referred me to Rhonda Noller who I also spoke with. Sac County. Dept. of Human Assistance 916-875-3525 Rhonda is a div. manager for programs and planning who has had refugee issues assigned to her also.

I also spoke with Ms. Trend Vu (vietnamese I believe. ) Tues
Feb 18, 2005
She told me that the Akha didn’t need to be talked to in Akha, that any other language would do and that the county was “covered”. Being as the Akha are persecuted mountain people they are not going to prefer to speak in Lao or Vietnamese, the national languages on confidential matters that can be used against them by these people in their own country.

She said she would look into it and then also clammed up. She said that they had a contract with Carmazzi Inc to provide translation when in fact they didn’t and also when they had the Akha identified with Akhan off the Carmazzi list which is a South African language.

We are the only listed translator for Carmazzi that I know of, there wasn’t a listing previously. Someone at the county called for service after that then canceled when they found out i was the translator.


I am also the translator at Language Line for Akha.

I later met Timothy Moua at the Elk Grove Hmong church. Mr. Xeng identified him as a supervisor at Florin and Bowling road office. I handed him a flyer before he had a chance to turn away and he said that yes, they had two Akha families there.

I later met another Hmong man who introduced himself at Elk Grove church as a supervisor at Bowling Road, and when I asked him his name he spoke it quickly and turned away, Teng Lor I think he said but it was not clear.

I contacted Tom Riley of California Health Care Interpretting Association.

I contacted Hmong Women’s Heritage Foundation and they also denied the knowledge of Akha here. But one man there referred me to Opening Doors Foundation in Sac which told me they also did not know of any Akha refugees, although by this time the entire network was talking that they didn’t think it good to let anyone contact the Akha (can be deported etc etc etc.)

I talked to Maurine Hueng, the Director of Opening Doors. She was quite abrubt, but as I was leaving did ask me about donations and money for her work which was quite funny.

I contacted Sacramento Health Rights hotline. They knew nothing they said.

I contacted UC Davis translating department where a man (hmong) told me he knew a Mien man on 36th st who could speak Akha who took me to the man on 19th. They invited me to a new year’s party where I gave out cards and one of them found its way to Ms. X

I talked to the Fed Office of Human Rights 415-437-8310.
Fax 415-437-8329

Filed case. Laura Coronado is now handling that case. Sac County dept. of human assitance has been notified of the investigation and is suppose to repsond with requested info soon.

Case number is 0532358

I talked with State office of Civil Rights but they said that since the case was already at Fed level they would have to wait. They knew about the case. Everyone knew about the case.

I called to talk to the Laura Hardcastle at the State Refugee Health Program. When she got on the line she was laughing hysterically, and then started out by saying “Do you mean to tell me you have come down from Oregon JUST to find TWO Akha families?” in a very ridiculing tone.


She referred me to Debbie Salazar
Refugee Health program, works at Refugee clinic at Stockton and Broadway, second floor.
I believe her number is 916-874-9750

Debbie wrote me, said that she would let me know if there was any Akha come in the clinic. This was all rubbish by this time of course, and she said that she had posted a sign in the clinic.

Interested by what was going on I stopped by, and the secretaries all knew me, got really careful when I identified myself.

When Debbie came out she was all over herself talking about how exciting it was to learn about the Akha and that no one had expected such a huge ruckus and blah blah blah. She pointed to a sign that said Akha translation available but noteably it was facing the inside way on the window where staff could see it but clients could not.

Minor detail.

Debbie said that maybe the County had told the Akha about our services but told them not to contact us? This was a very strange comment. She continued to deny she knew of any Akha. She stated that maybe language service in another language was ok, and they really didn’t need Akha language or Akha medical information.

But it is noteworthy that all the people in the county deny they have seen the Akha save Florin road, but then they all talk on email that the akha have to be hid, at the same time, so which is it?

Downstairs at the clinic, there is a emergency clinic. When I handed the intake officer a flyer, he immediately appeared to know who the Akha were and asked me if it was a 24 hour free service which I informed him it was.

So he apparently had some previous contact.

The Mien community speaks quite openly of the Akha children from before, so it is odd that no one in agencies claims to have heard of this either.

I spoke on Hmong Radio Friday in February. Many Mien and Hmong heard me, speaking in Akha language, people commented later. KJAY Sacramento.
Hmong Hour. 916-371-5109

The Hmong community continued to be very tight lipped about the Akha. No Akha in Sacramento. I went to Lao Family Sacramento. Lao Family Stockton and Lao Family Fresno.

Lao Family Sac. said they knew of no Akha, I talked to Hmong recent refugees there. Mien people also contacted me.

I went to Stockton. Lao Family seemed very interested, but said no Akha there either.

Lao Family Fresno said that the “akha want to remain private” but did not deny there was Akha in Fresno. County people could not confirm the Akha had the information, but neither could answer how they referred the Hmong to Lao Family, why they had contact and the Hmong there had services, etc.

Roy Kim is the program officer at SETA.

916-263-4335 Roy Kim sent me out memos email style that showed the cc’s of all the people who were in the loop. Steve Maganini was also on the list.


Roy Kim email. rkim@delpaso.seta.net

He said there were no Akha and that he would let me know if he saw ONE.

He hosted the refugee forum, but I was later told by the state woman that it was discussed, the Akha refugees, and decided that to allow them to admit they were Akha would get them deported when she asked me why I wasn’t at the forum. I told her I had other case work to do that day.

So basically she admitted that the Akha were here, smuggled, trafficked in and that the state would help keep this illegal situation secret.

I called the state Attorney General’s office and talked to Mr. Lewis Verdugo. Civil Rights Enforcement Division State Dept. of Justice.

and Patricia Gonzalez.

They said they were waiting on the fed case.

Don Clement is the San Fran regional supervisor for IRC. Inter. Resettlement Committee.

He said that IRC couldn’t tell who was who when they came in which of course is obviously not true.

By this time everyone knew I was looking regarding these Akha families.

I talked to Mr. Johnson in Bagkok, with the program for resettlement at the Bangkok embassy.

Then I was contacted by Lester Healley who is the director of the Bowling Green Dept. of Human Assistance office where the Akha were coming in.

He is African American. He appeared to have some simpathy for the situation. He told me that he had heard about all this ruckus and wanted to close the loop and get the Akha families help. He said he was identifying them and would call me back.


Linh Do at Sac County Dept. of Human Assistance at Bowling rd then called me back and was almost in tears and said she didn’t know how to tell the Akha families because they spoke Akha and she couldn’t speak to them in Akha.

She was a temp at Lester Healley’s job when he is out of the office.


I spoke also to Laura Leonelli in the NGO South East Asian Assistance. She said she had not heard of any Akha. She was in communication with Ms. Debbie Salazar. So everyone was talking back and forth about the Akha who did not exist.

The morning after Lester Healley talked to me, David Mowery the Deputy Dire. of Dept. Of Human Asssitance called me quite angrily and said that Lester didn’t know what he was talking about and there would be no discussion of the Akha let alone “closing the loop” and that he would not say anything and that in reality they didn’t even have any Akha. So I asked him why he was calling me to tell me about Akha who didn’t exist?

I talked to the Governors office and Sen. Boxer and Feinstein. 916-445-2841 Gov.

But I was referred to Ms. Twang Gnu from the Gov. Office and she told me that the Akha didn’t have any rights because they were put down as Hmong illegally and that the state didn’t have to give them any services, didn’t have to report them and didn’t have to give them translation service either and that attempts to help them would only get them deported. She said this specifically to me. “At the refugee forum (roy kim) we discussed the Akha and really in attempting to help them you are going to cause them to be deported so you shouldn’t attempt to help them.” !!!!!

She is the person for Refugee Issues in the Gov. Office!!!!!

I talked to her twice about this. She knows about the US Dept. Of Health and Human Services Complaint, and referred to it.

Another number for her is 916-654-4356 I talked to her last on this number. She is the Refugee Programs Administrator at the state level.

another possible spelling Ms. Thuan Nguyen That was Feb 18, 2005

I also talked to the News and Review and they said they would look into the story but also backed off. 916-498-1234 Interested in liberal views, the underdog etc, they say, they are in fact very special interest. As much as the next guy.

I contacted Lao Family in San Pablo and they gave me the name and phone number of an Akha here. Many people know him. He did not return my calls.

But when I called his son said maybe he would want to talk to me, I left a number. But when I called back his son said I had the wrong number.

So word spread after I contacted Lao Family in San Pablo as to what was going on. There is a large Mien community there in Richmond San Pablo area and I can suppose now that there are Akha kids trafficked there also.

Certain ethnic families told me they bought Akha kids, brought them to the US. Some paid $50 they said. One boy, $50.

He cried. For a year after coming to US. Was 5 or 6.

Ms. X says there are more than a hundred stolen children here, maybe 300, that “each ethnic family brought some”.

Yet her only relationship to these ethnics suggests that she is an outcast in that community. That the Akha are not integrated in that community and are in need of services.

The Akha appear isolated, told that they can’t talk, under watch, lock and key, feel afraid to claim who they are but are degraded in the ethnic society.

I met one older Akha man who was a soldier for US and has a Lao Veterans Card, he is 65 years approx.

I don’t know his address but know the ethnics who know him.

It is impossible that no one knows these children are here.

And the two new families as well.

I went to Burbank High School on Florin road and the white woman was shocked by this story but the Hmong lady immediately put a cap on it and said that they couldn’t give any information to the Akha without their parents consent (abortions ok?).

It appears to me that there is no clear cut process by which all orgs or charities pass information to immigrants and refugees. I can see no level of transparency. It appears to me that the refugees are isolated, that only certain people get to know and that any untoward events can happen when this is the case.

It also appears to me that certain powerful minorities have access and control of other minority groups, without those groups having access to broader information in the community.

While the Hmong are allowed and directed to coordinate with Lao Family, the Hmong supervisors are not offering this same benefit to the Akha who have come in with Hmong names.

Thus it also seems the Hmong are involved in trafficking of peoples.

One contact in Thailand is researching Akha smuggled by the Hmong to Minnesota or Wisconsin.

One can suggest that Akha children were exploited and brought in with the recent refugees if two entire families were able to make it and obviously could not speak Hmong, which is what the woman at Bowling Rd Dept. of Human Assistance told me.

It is clear that the Akha are being deprived of their rights.

I informed Homeland Security of this situation but they seem to be very poorly organized, no body cared and no body returned my calls. I even called their hotline, but once again, no reply.

So if someone is in the country illegally, posing as who they are not, trafficked, told they are who they are not, and Homeland Security is not interested???????

There is the need for a Federal Hotline on trafficking in people.

There needs to be a transparent clearing house on all refugees.

She says she knows her cousin. Seems Akha kids don’t do very well here. The Akha, as a group are taboo to talk about which means that they have been a target group, when you find Akha here but no one will talk about them.

So how many are in San Pablo, Fresno, Stockton, Minnesota, Wisconsin? Stolen Children?


The Akha story in Sacramento is not good. Homeland security claimed to know nothing, while the state Dept. Head of Refugees Ms. Emily Mestetsky said she had never heard of the case and that it was up to Homeland Security Immigration Enforcement to cope with it.

She spoke slowly, like she was processing, like she didn’t know what to say, or was being way too careful like she knew too much already, but it was the weirdest conversation I have had in a while.

Mr. Brad Joyce was out, he was in Immigration Investigations.

Ms. Emily claimed that if Akha were here as Hmong it was a case of fraud. She didn’t know what to say that 300 might be here with the Mein but in a case of fraud she didn’t think there was a stature of limitations on the Fed issue.

Tom, Mein, he didn’t have any more informatoin either, but had a contact at the Sac. Bee, I think maybe Magagnini and someone else. 916-394-9859.

No body knew anything.

Dr. Pou helped me get an announcement on the radio, and I don’t know what else he could do. His wife knew the details of the case, but was limited in what she could tell me and I appreciated what they had told me already that alerted me to this situation.

I talked to Ms. X, she sometimes called and sometimes not, so I lost a lot of time.

Friends didn’t return calls so I wasn’t using a lot more time there.

I couldn’t keep giving to the non performers for free.

Ms. X was suppose to give me a pic of her when small and one when big.

If she would keep courage I didn’t know, but it was crucial to the Akha in this area to pull a group together.

Anyway, the situation was discouraging, there wasn’t anyone standing up for the children, just a bunch of lifer dogs, the two Akha families were definitely no priority.

The US Attorney’s task force on trafficking looked like just that, lots of talk but no action, blah blah blah blah.

Well, it simplified my life, I learned a lot, and now on to other things. I would try to pull a case together for the Sacramento Akha but it didn’t look like it would be easy. More and more Akha would havce to come forward.

Ms. X knew a lot. A lot of Akha and then some.

When one is first handling a case of this kind one makes mistakes, and I had. Maybe friends were on the case already. I had given them her phone number, name, etc. I wouldn’t repeat that.

I did them up a report, then they didn’t have time to return calls, maybe busy, but so was I.

And they got paid.

Everybody was like they were in the least capitalistic country in the world, living off the trough like nothing should be tied to performance, and they were all colluding anyway, one got the feeling.

More Disturbing news Ms. X tells me that the ethnics know a lot about the Akha being trafficked into Sacramento.

Ms. X situation is that her theft parents made her to feel that she is the bad person and that she vicitmized them, but this is in fact not the case.

But this adds to her reluctance to tell her story, in that she has been made to feel she is bad and that it is not a legitimate story at all.

The ethnic trafficking to Sacramento is being covered up.



Have a comment or question? Like to know more? Send me an email at akha@akha.org
Copyright 2004, by Matthew McDaniel