US returns passport to dying Laotian man who filed lawsuit in effort to return home

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — An elderly Laotian man got his passport back Wednesday and plans to go home to die after suing the U.S. government for the return of the document, his attorney said.

The lawsuit filed by the 88-year-old man using only his last name Xiong alleged immigration officials had refused to return the passport after seizing it when he applied for asylum in 2008.

Xiong now says he is in poor health and wants to be reunited with his wife and numerous children in Laos before his death, according to the suit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

"He's almost 89 years old, and he just wants to go back to Laos, to be with his family," attorney Ken Seeger said. "Now he'll be able to."

Immigration authorities confirmed the return of the passport.

"Based on further review of the case, we believe that this is the appropriate course of action," said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice.

Xiong didn't want his full name used in the lawsuit because he fears attention by government officials in Laos.

Xiong fought on the U.S. side during the Vietnam War and was held prisoner for seven years by the leftist government of Laos. He then lived in fear in that country, moving every few years to stay under the radar.

The suit said Xiong got a visa to come to the United States in 2007 to visit family members, who persuaded him to apply for asylum and live a more settled life, even if it meant separation from his wife and 16 children.

His initial request was denied, and the hearing officer held on to Xiong's passport after finding discrepancies in his story, Seeger said.

Meanwhile, his case slowly made its way through a lengthy process in immigration court.

While he waited, Xiong's health deteriorated. He is Hmong and wanted to be buried according to Hmong traditions, his suit said.

The passport expired in February, but as soon as it is renewed — a process that can take up to six weeks — he plans to fly home.

Seeger said his client asked "can I start packing now?" after learning his passport had been returned.

Now that he has his passport, Xiong will likely drop the suit, Seeger said.