Only days ago, the Chinese Communist Party approved new laws that will effectively end democracy in Hong Kong. The National People’s Congress passed the measures almost unanimously, citing the need to exert greater control over selecting local political candidates to prevent unrest.
When Hong Kong passed from British to Chinese rule in 1997, the Chinese government affirmed they would allow democracy in Hong Kong until at least 2047. But in recent years, thousands protested the Chinese government’s increasing restrictions and interference in Hong Kong’s democratic processes.
Right now, many Hong Kong citizens are fleeing the country, fearing the abolishment of their freedoms and persecution for supporting the democratic government. After China implemented new restrictions last year, British prime minister Boris Johnson offered 3 million Hong Kong citizens refuge in Great Britain, given their status as former British citizens and because many still have British passports. If they come to Great Britain and stay for five years, former Hong Kong residents could apply for British citizenship. London predicts 322,000 Hong Kong citizens will take Johnson up on the offer.
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Canada and Australia will also offer refuge for Hong Kong citizens. Some 300,000 Hong Kong citizens have already moved to Canada since 1997.
The U.S. government must join our allies in providing sanctuary for supporters of democracy around the world — but so far, the U.S. has failed to help.
Just a month ago, a bipartisan group of 12 senators introduced a bill to the U.S. Congress to make it easier for Hong Kong residents to apply for refugee status in the United States. In a joint statement, the senators said their bill would “ensure those Hong Kongers who peacefully protested Beijing’s corrupt justice system, and have a well-founded fear of persecution” were eligible for refugee status in the United States.
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But despite the senators’ good intentions, their bill will likely face staunch opposition in Congress. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) accused Democrats of using the Hong Kong crisis as a way to curb strict U.S. immigration laws. He also fears the Chinese government would exploit the Hong Kong citizens’ refugee status by sending Chinese spies to the U.S. posing as refugees. Several Chinese spies were exposed in recent years and Cruz fears changing our immigration laws could be a grave national security risk.
As a sitting senator, Cruz is justified to raise concerns about national security. But such fears should not be used to prevent the U.S. from rescuing the people of Hong Kong altogether.
In 2018, only about 1,600 Hong Kong people immigrated to the United States. The U.S. should be taking a more assertive role as the supposed leader of the free world by assisting our allies and allowing more Hong Kong citizens to migrate to the U.S.
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Wisconsin should also help with this task, given its history for resettling political refugees. After the Vietnam War, Wisconsin was one of the primary destinations for Hmong refugees — a minority group from Vietnam aligned with the U.S. against the Vietcong. The Vietnamese Communist Party brutally persecuted the Hmong after the war, prompting many Wisconsin churches and communities to sponsor thousands of refugees. Since then, Wisconsin has continued to help resettle tens of thousands of refugees from around the world.
So far, there is no indication the Wisconsin state government has taken initiative or even noticed the events in Hong Kong. As a historic safe haven for political refugees, Gov. Evers and other Wisconsin institutions should once again help to sponsor refugee resettlement in our state.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has publicly denounced China’s actions and also supported American efforts to provide Hong Kong citizens with refugee status. Biden has also raised his concerns about China’s crackdown of pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong but he has done little else to support that movement, besides sanctioning some Chinese officials.
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Biden has expressed one of his chief concerns as president is to reform America’s immigration system by allowing more immigrants into this country. Biden should stick to this promise and use an executive order to allow more Hong Kong people to migrate to the U.S. today. Not only would this help thousands of political refugees, but it would also be an appropriate political response in opposition to China’s new restrictions in Hong Kong.
The U.S. cannot stand idle as China destroys one the few democracies in Asia. If America wants to lead the free world, it cannot fail to act as fellow democracies crumble. Only then will other nations trust us to protect such political freedoms and help to spread democracy worldwide.
Hayden Kolowrat ([email protected]) is a graduate student studying Southeast Asian studies.