WHY THE U.S. IS CLOSING THE DOOR ON THE CHINESE
by Mary Meehan
In February 1994, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing cabled the State
Department in Washington about a meeting with Ministry of Foreign
Affairs official Dai Changshi. It said Dai suggested that "the
Chinese might be willing to continue" receiving illegal Chinese
emigrants the U.S. wanted to send back -if the U.S. abided by three
basic principles. One, the embassy said, was "repatriating
intercepted groups intact." According to other cables, this meant
that none of the emigrants should be given asylum in America.
The embassy added: "Although Dai's comments stopped short of inviting
an immediate repatriation, he did emphasize that the U.S. is already
well aware of how to carry out the task. He may have been suggesting
we continue business as usual.
In other meetings, too, Chinese officials repeatedly stressed their
opposition to U.S. asylum for any of the emigrants. The State
Department tried to comply with Chinese wishes by minimizing asylum
grants, according to internal-government documents revealed by a
federal lawsuit called Yang You Yi vs. Reno. Many Chinese men,
detained in the York County Prison, in Pennsylvania, are taking part
in the lawsuit, alleging improper White House interference with their
asylum claims. Like some Chinese women awaiting deportation from
Bakersfield, Calif., the men say they fled coercive population
control in China.
The documents were examined by at the office of
Stock and Leader, a law firm in York. One of its attorneys, Craig
Trebilcock, is a key figure in the effort to gain asylum for the men,
who tried to enter the United States illegally two years ago on a
smuggling ship called the Golden Venture. The ship ran aground just
off the New York coast in June 1993, and most of its passengers were
captured by immigration officials.
Media focus on the Golden Venture, added to other stories about
illegal immigration and charges that the United States had "lost
control of its borders," led to a Clinton administration decision to
detain (imprison) the Golden Venture passengers and to expedite their
In addition, the administration pressured China to prevent smuggling
ships from leaving its coast. (Ironically, nine days before the
Golden Venture arrived, President Clinton had sent Congress a message
on most-favored-nation trade status for China, in which he reported
"progress in freedom of emigration" from that country, and said that
"we will continue to urge more progress.")
The administration intercepted other smuggling ships on the high seas
and sent the passengers back to China, either directly or from third
countries. National Security Council staff member Randy Beers
explained why at an inter-agency government meeting on July 21, 1993.
"Randy explained," according to an account of the meeting, "that our
policy of intercepting boats before they reached the U.S. was to
avoid our cumbersome asylum procedures."
He stressed, however, that emigrants received "some processing so
that we can state clearly that we are not returning refugees to China
but rather that these people are economic migrants trying to
circumvent the legal channels of immigration." (Critics believe that
many of the emigrants had legitimate asylum claims. but didn't
receive a fair hearing in the "processing.")
The administration generally opposes asylum based on coercive
population control, but has allowed parole of at least 10 Golden
Venture passengers on that claim since last August. It apparently
wants to make relief a matter of administrative discretion, instead
of a right, in order to the directive, White House staff said
President Clinton wanted to provide relief for people with a
"credible fear" of forced birth control, while State Department
officials argued that asylum on this basis should be granted very
rarely. A Justice Department document suggests that, in fact, the
administrative discretion was intended to be used only in "extreme
cases of severe harm."
Attorney Trebilcock told Our Sunday Visitor that the Aug. 5 directive
is "just window dressing for the consumption of Congress and the
press." He said it gives the administration an ability to "save face
in one or two cases so they don't look bad . . . while they continue
to deport hundreds of Chinese who don't attain media prominence." The
INS, however, has said that President Clinton found the directive "an
appropriate way to provide humanitarian relief."
Trebilcock declared-and Our Sunday Visitor's examination of documents
confirmed- that the crucial administration decision was one to defend
the 1989 Matter of Chang decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals
(a quasi-independent agency that, like the INS, is lodged within the
Justice Department). Matter of Chang found that implementation of
China's one-child policy "is not on its face persecutive . . . even
to the extent that involuntary sterilizations may occur." In order to
obtain asylum, applicants, the board said, must show that the policy
was, or would be, applied to them in a discriminatory way. Many
immigration judges believed Golden Venture passengers who said they
fled coercive birth control, yet still denied them asylum because of
Matter of Chang.
Justice Department support for helped State
Department and INS officials please Chinese representatives during
negotiations on smuggling and repatriation in Beijing on April 14-15,
According to a May cable reporting the talks, chief Chinese
negotiator Dai Changshi "said he thought it ironic that while China
was adopting legislation designed to curtail alien smuggling and
illegal immigration, there would still be those in the United States
who advocated punishing China because of its one-child policy."
Chief U.S. negotiator James Puleo of the INS "pointed out that both
the Department of Justice and the Department of State have requested
[that] the administration reconsider previous administration policies
regarding China's one-child policy."
Puleo also referred to an effort by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and
Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., to write into law protection for
those who flee coercive birth control. He told Dai that INS
Commissioner Doris Meissner had recently sent a letter opposing the
Helms-DeConcini amendment to Attorney General Janet Reno, and he
indicated that State Department official Timothy Wirth had taken a
Puleo "stressed that INS is prepared to do everything possible to
ensure" that each large group of illegal aliens captured together,
"especially those that are intercepted at sea, will be repatriated as
a single group.... Puleo again acknowledged that the problem lay in
the U.S. legal system but assured the Chinese that INS would do its
best to repatriate such groups as a whole."
The U.S. side also promised to provide, in Chinese characters,
information identifying each returnee and a photograph of each. (Both
State Department cables and newspaper reports indicate that illegal
emigrants returned to China have been heavily fined-and that some
have been imprisoned when they couldn't pay the fines.)
At the end of the Beijing talks, Dai said "he felt that the Chinese
and U.S. sides had reached some common understanding."
Three weeks later, in early May 1994, the United States sent 119
people back to China. Chinese officials complained about glitches in
the transfer. Generally, though, both sides were working toward
"business as usual."
Meehan writes from Rockville, Md.
THEY WANT THEIR MONEY, AND THEY WANT IT NOW
MANY ILLEGAL CHINESE EMIGRANTS come from Fujian Province, which is on
the east coast of China facing Taiwan. In May 1993, the U.S. State
Department's Office of Asylum Affairs issued a report on Fujian
Province that declared implementation of birth control there to be
"more relaxed" and even "liberal" than in other parts of China.
Rather than coercion, it said, Fujian's "most powerful forces are
social and community attitudes."
In a deposition earlier this year in the case,
China expert Steven Mosher said this mistakenly implied that such
attitudes are somehow independent of government policy" Instead, he
declared: "If we all work in a particular factory and you and your
wife are going to violate the one child policy by having a second
child, then we will all be told that we are going to lose our bonuses
this year.... So we are going to put tremendous community pressure
to bear upon you to abort your second child."'
Mosher also stressed the heavy fines imposed on rural Chinese who
have unauthorized children: "You really have to understand the
rapaciousness of Chinese officials. They want their money, and they
want it now, and they're going to put enormous pressure on you in
order to get as much, as many pounds of flesh, as they think they can
from you, and leave you penniless. Then they will come back, if you
have had a good harvest, and extract more."
John Aird, a retired U. S. Census Bureau expert on Chinese population
policy, called some State Department documents "inaccurate and
misleading" in congressional testimony he submitted in May Aird also
criticized the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) for its decision in
. The BIA opinion, he noted, states that Chinese
couples "are 'urged' to undergo birth-control operations when in fact
they are often compelled to do so. It repeats the official claim that
coercion is not approved by the Chinese government without noting
that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this claim is
false." In , Aird concluded, the "BIA's sympathies
were all on the side of the Chinese government." -Mary Meehan
This article was taken from the July 9, 1995 issue of "Our Sunday
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