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Beijing’s Assault on Hong Kong Shows Need for US Refugee Program

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

Since Hong Kong’s long-standing freedoms are are under assault from Beijing, now is a good time for Team Trump to revisit its approach to the refugee resettlement program.

Foreigners who have been loyal to the United States and the idea of freedom are justified in seeking asylum when they are fleeing oppressive communist regimes. 

The Trump administration has a good faith concern about illegal immigration and aliens claiming refugee status when they have no valid claim.  

Yet, when you look at examples like we are seeing in Hong Kong today, there are genuine refugees who are in need of the traditional protection the United States has given to people fleeing for their lives and freedom.

Hong Kong is a former colony of the British Empire that was a shining example of economic freedom. The area led the world in economic development and a high standard of living for the its 7.5 million people. 

Communist China imposed a so-called “national security law” that allowed the extradition of Hong Kong residents to China, the proposal of which led to large pro-democracy protests in the city. Hong Kong residents now have a good faith belief that they could lose their lives and freedom if they protest too much.

China has engaged in documented cases of government bullying to intimidate the people of Hong Kong. The New York Post reported on Sept. 8, 2020, “Hong Kong authorities have arrested thousands of peaceful protesters, raided newspaper offices and fired pro-democracy academics, yet still hit a new low over the weekend: taking down a 12-year-old girl.” 

This is exactly the fact pattern that has led people to seek refuge in the United States to flee from religious or government persecution.

People with a good faith claim of refugee status should have a fair chance to seek protection in the United States. Our nation was founded by refugees who sought to practice the religion of their choice. The White House is close to the date when they traditionally make a Presidential Determination on the number of refugees the United States will take. 

This is a great opportunity for the president to fight religious persecution and support individuals fleeing communism and other oppressive regimes through an increase in the number of refugees admitted to the United States.

Many groups have been pushed to action by the news that pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong are not safe as a result of an Orwellian law. The Refugee Council USA pointed out in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on July 13, 2020, how to help these people by “utilizing the US refugee Admissions Program (URRAP) to resettle those who are in harm’s way and do not have other options for protection, and ensuring that refugees from Hong Kong are granted asylum should they flee to the United States.” To get this done, there needs to be a robust number of refugees allowed in the next Presidential Determination for Fiscal Year 2021.

A little history is in order here. 

The U.S. Congress first acted to pass refugee legislation in 1948 to allow for the admission of 400,000 displaced Europeans affected by the fallout from World War II. Subsequent legislation accommodated refugees fleeing communism from China, Hungary, Korea, Poland, Yugoslavia and Fidel Castro’s Cuba. A good history of the program is available here, compliments of the U.S. State Department. 

Here in the 21st century, the major refugee problems are concentrated in and around China. Not so long ago, Hong Kong was a refuge for the Vietnamese and mainland Chinese who left oppression in their homeland on a boat in pursuit of freedom. The John Wayne film “Blood Alley,” co-staring Lauren Bacall, tells this story very well. Sadly, today the reverse is true with the Beijing regime in a powerful position to make an example of refugees fleeing Hong Kong who are captured while trying to reach Taiwan. 

There’s an argument to be made that the United States has been admitting too few refugees in recent years. The Wall Street Journal reports that in 2016 about 85,000 refugees were admitted, but with the Trump administration reducing the ceiling for new arrivals we’ve arrived at a figure of 18,000 for the current fiscal year, which is a historical low. 

Turning away friends of freedom who are the subjects of religious persecution could be political damaging to Trump at a time when he needs to maximize his support among conservative evangelical Christians, Roman Catholics, and other groups who supported him in 2016.

What should the right numbers for refugee admissions be? The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which is chaired by conservative evangelical Tony Perkins, proposes returning the historical norm of about 95,000 refugees a year. Other religious institutions that have made their voices heard in favor of refugees include the National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Is the White House listening? 

Kevin Mooney is a journalist and investigative reporter for the Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and The Daily Signal in Washington D.C. 

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