Refugees granted asylum from China's '1 child' rule U.S. policy provides for special attention

May 30, 1992|By Lizette Alvarez | Lizette Alvarez,Knight-Ridder News Service

MIAMI -- One evening seven years ago, Su Xi Tu's wife was taken against her will to a family planning clinic in China, where her 4-month-old fetus was aborted. Then, birth-planning authorities turned to Mr. Su, demanding that he be sterilized for China's welfare.

Mr. Su fled. Now 43, he is in North Miami Beach, safe, at least temporarily, from China's "one-couple, one-child" dictate.

Hundreds of other Chinese citizens are holed up in countries such as Peru and Panama, waiting for a chance to fly to the United States and ask for political asylum. They are a new kind of refugee, defying abortion and sterilization, not communism and civil war.

Their stories are difficult if not impossible to prove, but they have found an ally in the U.S. government. Unlike many Haitians, Salvadorans, Guatemalans and others fleeing civil strife, most Chinese refugees who leave China because of its birth control policy are permitted to stay on U.S. soil.

"These cases do deserve special attention," said Cheryl Little, an immigration attorney who has worked with Haitian refugees. "It's the fair thing to do. Now I hope they do the fair thing with other groups."

In November, Grover Joseph Rees, general counsel for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, sent out a memo reminding the agency that China's birth-planning policies can constitute persecution and instructed officials to give these cases "enhanced consideration."

He even provided a safety valve for these refugees: The INS's new policy allows Chinese refugees fleeing the one-couple, one-child rule to apply for political asylum twice -- once before an immigration judge, who is not bound by INS instructions, and, if that fails, a second time before more lenient INS asylum officers.

Some refugee advocates, while pleased with the government's leniency toward Chinese refugees, say it is a clear-cut example of how domestic politics determine a refugee's fate.

"I would have to say there is only one reason for this: the anti-abortion right-to-life movement," said Carolyn P. Blum, a refugee law expert at the University of California at Berkeley.

INS officials dispute that perception. For the Bush administration, the "one-couple, one-child" policy, when carried to extremes, is inhumane and unjustifiable.

"I don't care how you feel about abortion or sterilization," Mr. Rees said. "Most people would recoil from having to send somebody back to where they would be forced to have abortions or sterilization. It's tyranny."

Forced abortions and sterilization are no longer as widespread in China as they were in the early 1980s, according to a 1991 State Department report on China.

Local officials still rely on such draconian measures to keep the population down, especially in rural areas, but the number of forced abortions and sterilizations has dropped, according to a 1991 Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs report on China.

Yet dozens of Chinese men and women arrive in the United States every year and say they were threatened with sterilization by birth-planning authorities.

Many say they were also hard-hit by China's other, more typical tactics of persuasion: fines amounting to one year's salary, constant visits by birth-planning officials, loss of jobs and cuts in wages.

In immigration courts, it is often difficult to discriminate between opportunists who used the birth control policy as an excuse to get into the United States and those who were truly persecuted.

But once here, few Chinese citizens fleeing China's birth control dictates are denied political asylum. Even fewer are sent back to China.

"I would assume the approval rate is very high," said Duke Austin, an INS spokesman in Washington.

It's impossible to know how manyChinese refugees fleeing the one-couple, one-child policy have been allowed to stay in the United States because the INS does not keep such statistics.

In 1990, the INS granted 505 Chinese political asylum, many of the claims based on persecution during and after the 1989 pro-democracy movement, and denied 49. During the first six months of 1991, 217 were granted and 23 denied.

To Su Xi Tu, the hows and whys that shape his future make no difference. When his asylum case comes up in the next year, his only task is to convince the immigration judge of his pain and fear. His only evidence is his word.

Mr. Su was already the father of two sons when the government in 1979 began cracking down on couples with too many children.

Despite the threat of stiff fines and other government sanctions, Mr. Su and his wife decided to try for a girl in 1985.

When birth-planning officials showed up at her house, Mr. Su's wife shimmied down bamboo poles and fled, waiting out her pregnancy in the safety of an aunt's village. Mr. Su said the authorities cut off his electricity, demoted him to a job as a farmer and withheld his pay. Four months into her pregnancy, Mr. Su's wife sneaked back to her village to celebrate a Chinese holiday. Birth-planning authorities detained her.

Then they aborted her baby, he said. "When I learned about the abortion, it had already been done."

In 1989, after Mr. Su said his second son lost his hand in a rice machine, the couple applied to have another child. The authorities said no. They insisted that Mr. Su be sterilized and threatened to take his land. If he refused, they warned, they would sterilize him by force.

In 1991, Mr. Su fled to Peru, where he worked in a restaurant, sleeping on a table at night.

Six months later, during a crackdown on illegal immigrants, he bought false papers that got him as far as Miami International Airport. INS inspectors stopped him, and he has been detained at the Krome Detention Center for several months. He awaits his turn to plead for political asylum before an immigration judge.

"I had to run away from this," Mr. Su said. "My family doesn't want to leave China, but I don't want to be sterilized. I told the authorities I would leave the country."

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