Chinese men smuggled into U.S. granted asylum Pair fled on ship that ran aground

September 01, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

Two Chinese men who were smuggled into this country in June won their bids for political asylum in hearings yesterday in ,, Baltimore.

U.S. Immigration Judge Leonard I. Shapiro granted asylum to Kay Gwo Zhang, 37, and Po Jiang, 21, who were among 117 of the nearly 300 passengers of the Golden Venture who are being detained in York, Pa.

"Welcome to America," Judge Shapiro told Mr. Zhang, who smiled nervously.

"Before the case started, I knew America was a more democratic country," Mr. Zhang said after the hearing.

Of the cases already decided, only two of the Chinese detained in York had won asylum until yesterday. Immigration judges had denied the other applications, according to an Immigration and Naturalization Service official and lawyers working with the Chinese. The last of the York cases is to be heard tomorrow in Baltimore.

The other asylum-seekers are being detained at other locations.

Yesterday's hearings were the first opened to the public.

"Miraculously, the refugees are batting 1.000 on the day the press is allowed in the hearing," said Craig T. Trebilcock, a York attorney who fought to open the hearings to the public.

Mr. Trebilcock said York County and INS officials had worked together to keep the hearings closed, but Judge John C. Uhler, of the York County Common Pleas Court, ruled Monday that they must be open. The INS immediately moved the remaining hearings to Baltimore in what Mr. Trebilcock said was an attempt to frustrate church groups and others who support the Chinese.

At his hearing yesterday, Mr. Zhang told Judge Shapiro through an interpreter that he fled Fuzhou to escape political persecution. He said the Chinese government would punish him for his pro-democracy activities if he was returned.

He said he handed out literature to passers-by in Fuzhou in June 1989 in support of anti-government demonstrators who congregated on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. After the protest was crushed, he said, he went into hiding as the government searched for him.

He said he surrendered after several days and confessed his involvement in pro-democracy protests when officials promised not to harm him. He said the government broke its promise after finding out that his wife was pregnant with their third child.

He said officials forced his wife to have an abortion to punish him for his political activity. He said he went back into hiding, fearing he would be punished more.

Under Chinese law, it is illegal in most cases for families to have more than two children under a policy to control China's population growth.

"Because of my incident, my wife has been persecuted," Mr. Zhang said in response to questions posed by his lawyer, Hanna A. Dunlap, of Lancaster, Pa. "If I go back to China, the government will persecute me more . . . I will be a criminal . . . I will lose my freedom. They will arrest me and put me away."

He said he paid smugglers to take him to the U.S. and he and other asylum-seekers set sail from China in August 1990. He said the ship was berthed in Thailand and the passengers hidden for two years before the vessel departed for New York. The ship ran aground in New York on June 6. Ten passengers died trying to reach shore.

At one point in the hearing, it appeared that Judge Shapiro was ready to deny Mr. Zhang's application for asylum as the judge was puzzled over why Chinese officials did not punish him after he emerged from hiding the first time.

"I can't find that he had a well-founded fear if he came home and nothing happened to him," the judge said.

But Ms. Dunlap said that after spending many hours interviewing her client in jail, she was convinced that he truly was afraid he would face persecution for his political involvement. She said he later realized it was a mistake to have confessed.

"He only confessed to be left alone," she said.

Lawrence Berman, counsel for the INS, argued that the forced abortion had nothing to do with punishing Mr. Zhang for his political activity, and insisted that he was not entitled to asylum. He suggested that the Chinese government took the action only to enforce the population-control policy.

"He may have been violently unhappy and disgusted that the government aborted his child, but that doesn't give him a well-founded fear of being persecuted," said Mr. Berman. He said later he will consider appealing the judge's ruling.

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