Late last week, in the middle of high-stakes COVID-19 relief negotiations, the Senate quietly attempted to bypass the normal legislative process and ram through a dangerous immigration giveaway. You heard that right—yet another immigration bill without the best interests of the American people in mind.
The bill, known as the Hong Kong People’s Freedom and Choice Act and already approved by the House, is a well-intentioned effort aimed at responding to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) increasingly repressive efforts to snuff out any remaining freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents. Fortunately, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) took a bold stand and blocked the bill, stopping it in its tracks for now. Unfortunately, the legislation will likely return in the 117th Congress.
This deeply flawed proposal would significantly alter the process by which the federal government awards controversial Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to aliens currently in the United States. Even worse, it expands the definition of refugee and asylum status specifically for Hong Kong residents, setting a dangerous precedent and creating a new pathway ripe for abuse.
However well-intentioned, the Hong Kong People’s Freedom and Choice Act would strengthen the CCP’s repressive grip on the Special Administrative Region and sound the death knell for the “One Country, Two Systems” to which Beijing agreed when the British handed over the territory in 1997. The bill would also enhance Beijing’s well-documented and increasingly aggressive efforts to conduct military and industrial espionage against the United States.
The Hong Kong People’s Freedom and Choice Act essentially would do for the CCP what a series of laws and policies, culminating with the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, did for the Castro regime: solidify its grip on power. Cruz knows this well—his father left Cuba as Castro began tightening his control over the island and punishing dissidents. Over many decades, well-meaning U.S. laws and policies siphoned from Cuba many of those who otherwise would have stayed and opposed the repressive regimes of Fidel and Raul Castro (and now their protégé, Miguel Diaz-Canel).
For the most part, the Cubans who migrated to the United States have prospered and been an asset to the United States. But the vast majority of Cubans who remained behind, have languished in fear and poverty for more than 60 years, as the ruling regime remains unchallenged.
Hong Kong, which has remained a bastion of prosperity and relative freedom under the “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement, is clearly a threat to the CCP. Beijing would not be taking the heavy-handed measures underway otherwise. Hong Kong is a danger to the ruling regime because it serves as a beacon to more than a billion mainland Chinese of what is possible under a more enlightened system. Without a strong opposition in Hong Kong fighting back against repressive policies from Beijing, not only will Hong Kong suffer, but so too will hopes of political change in the rest of China.
Clearly, there are many people in Hong Kong who would meet the requirements for political asylum in the United States even without enactment of H.R. 8428 because they are likely to be targeted by the CCP for retribution. However, the legislation is so broadly written that it would apply to anyone who might be targeted by the CCP – which is just about all of the 7.5 million people who live there.
The second, and perhaps more important danger posed by the legislation is the opportunity it presents to the CCP to advance its long-running espionage efforts against the United States. Writing in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe warned, “If I could communicate one thing to the American people . . . it is that the People’s Republic of China poses the greatest threat to America today, and the greatest threat to democracy and freedom world-wide since World War II.” Cruz echoed Ratcliffe’s warning on the floor of the Senate as he spoke against the bill.
For decades, the CCP has used our openness and freedoms against us in its relentless efforts “to dominate the U.S. and the rest of the planet economically, militarily and technologically.” The CCP has effectively exploited student visas, temporary worker visas, and immigrant visas to place operatives in areas that are sensitive to our national security and economic interests. Chinese nationals, directly answerable to Beijing, have gained access to cutting edge U.S. technology and trade secrets that, as Ratcliffe writes, are critical to their ability to “rob, replicate and replace” what we have innovated.
It would constitute naïveté in the extreme to believe that, if presented with a virtual open door for Hong Kong residents, the CCP would not exploit the opportunity to infiltrate people who are loyal to the regime.
Along with countless Hong Kong Chinese who honestly just want to get out from under the oppressive thumb of Beijing, we would also be admitting untold numbers of people who are working for the regime and against our interests. Given the volume of people and the opaque nature of China’s totalitarian government, screening out the security threats would be a virtual impossibility.
The United States must not turn its back on the people of Hong Kong who are struggling to maintain their freedoms. Standing up to the Beijing regime’s efforts to crack down on those freedoms will be an immediate and important test for a Biden Administration. Doing so would require more than good intentions.
However well-intended, the Hong Kong People’s Freedom and Choice Act will not preserve freedom for Hong Kong. It will only empower Beijing and undermine our own vital interests, and Ted Cruz was right to stop it.