President Joe Biden on Thursday directed the Department of Homeland Security to defer removals of Hong Kong residents in the United States for 18 months over China’s crackdown on pro-democracy activists, Politico reports.
Biden issued a “safe haven” memo to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas reaffirming the United States’ support for “the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the residents of Hong Kong,” citing “the significant erosion of those rights and freedoms in Hong Kong by the People’s Republic of China.”
Biden cited Hong Kong’s recent China-backed national security law that has been used to crack down on dissidents and said China “has continued its assault on Hong Kong’s autonomy” by “undermining its remaining democratic processes and institutions, imposing limits on academic freedom, and cracking down on freedom of the press.”
Move comes after first national security arrest:
The memo was issued days after pro-democracy protester Tong Ying-kit became the first person convicted under the new national security law for inciting secession and terrorism. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Hong Kong police have arrested “at least 100 opposition politicians, activists, and protesters” using the new national security law since it went into effect last June, according to the White House.
More than 10,000 people “have been arrested for other charges in connection with anti-government protests.”
Exiled Hong Kong residents want refugee status:
A coalition of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists sent a letter to Congress last month asking for lawmakers to provide pro-democracy protesters seeking resettlement with temporary protesction status and extend visas to “to high-skilled Hong Kong residents with an associate degree or above.”
The letter cited “well-founded fears of prosecution” in the territory.
A bill to allow Hong Kong citizens to apply for refugee status “through the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong and other safe harbors in the region” is currently being reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that Biden’s order shows his “strong support for people in Hong Kong in the face of ongoing repression” by China, “and makes clear we will not stand idly by as the PRC breaks its promises to Hong Kong and to the international community.”