Why the U.S. is Closing the Door on the Chinese

Author: Mary Meehan


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. Mixed messages 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 asylum hearings. 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, 1994. 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 similar position. 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 Visitor". To subscribe write Our Sunday Visitor, Inc, Huntington, In 46750.

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