Amnesty for Chinese Students in the US

A year after Tiananmen Square, many still face persecution at home

By , Carl Shusterman, a former trial lawyer for the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, currently is a partner in the Los Angeles office of Barst, Mukamal & Shusterman, the nation's largest immigration law firm. He acts as an adviser to the Chinese Students and Scholars Associations at UCLA, USC, and Cal Tech.

ONE year after Chinese students were massacred at Tiananmen Square, Chinese students in the US still are anxious about their own long-term safety. Their situation has become more hazardous in light of a memo recently revealed by a defecting People's Republic of China (PRC) diplomat which indicates that the PRC government is targeting Chinese students in the US for harassment. There is a general impression that President Bush's executive order ensures that these students can find sanctuary in the US if they desire. It does not. The executive order, issued only after a series of skirmishes with Congress, permits students from the PRC to remain in the US until January 1, 1994. It also allows them to apply for lawful permanent residence status - if they can qualify.

The rub is, many of the students cannot qualify. Others who can would have to quit school and find employers willing to sponsor them.

But these are not the only reasons Bush's executive order falls short of the sanctuary it seems to promise. There currently are over 50,000 PRC students in the US. Since most of them lack close US citizen relatives who can petition for them, the students must rely on employers for sponsorship.

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Under US immigration laws, however, no more than 4,000 persons per year may immigrate to the US from any one country through job offers. If all 50,000 PRC students were to apply for permanent residence, and it is expected most of them will, waiting times would exceed 10 years. Therefore, many of the students would fall out of legal status before they could obtain permanent residence. Without legal status, they will not be able to hold jobs, and could even face deportation back to the very environment which proved so deadly to their peers.

While the students are relieved that they can remain in the US until 1994, what befalls them after that is a very troublesome question mark.

It is not easy to dismiss their fears. After all, the initial policy of the Immigration and Naturalization Service toward the students was to grant them one year to remain in the US if they turned themselves in to the Deportation Branch. Not surprisingly, few students took advantage of this offer.

Moreover, the president's mixed signals on this matter have been well documented. Condemnation of the Tiananmen Square massacre were followed by national security adviser Brent Snowcroft's secret mission to Beijing. Then the president vetoed legislation that would have allowed the students to apply for permanent residence. He later granted students that right through the executive order - but only in the face of congressional and public pressure.

Most Chinese students in the US are either in graduate programs or already have obtained their PhDs. Almost all of them major in science, and they pay their way by working in university laboratories.

They represent the best and brightest minds China has to offer. They have both a thirst for democracy and a practical understanding of it. Their contributions, either to this country, or as China's future leaders, will be extraordinary.

What is required is a demonstration of American support for these students that is unequivocal and enduring. Indeed, the situation calls for an amnesty program for Chinese students to ensure that they are not forced to return to China before it is safe for them to do so.

The US recently granted amnesty to over 3 million illegal aliens. Why not do the same for a relative handful of students who one day may be the leaders of a democratic China?

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