A bipartisan group of senior US senators, led by Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), reintroduced legislation on Tuesday to help people from Hong Kong fearing persecution after the 2019-20 protests to gain refugee status in the US.
The bill, entitled the “Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act,” aims to “ensure those Hong Kongers who peacefully protested Beijing’s corrupt justice system, and have a well-founded fear of persecution, are eligible for Priority 2 Refugee status.” Rubio, Menendez and others first introduced the bill in June 2020. They said that the bill is in response to the People’s Republic of China’s “draconian national security law.”
In addition to granting certain Hong Kongers priority 2 refugee status, the Act would waive immigration intent as a factor for non-immigrant visas. Further, the Act states that if Beijing revokes the residency of people applying for a US visa or refugee status, “those individuals will remain eligible for refugee status as victims of political persecution.”
Last May Chinese state media announced that the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress would begin drafting a new law to establish and improve the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for Hong Kong to “safeguard national security.” The law passed in late June, allowing mainland China investigators to bring terrorism charges against those engaged in “dangerous activities [secession, subversion of state power, terrorism, and collusion with foreign entities] which seriously jeopardize public health, safety or security.” The controversial law has been met with international criticism.
In August the US imposed sanctions on 11 officials from China and Hong Kong for their involvement in “curtailing citizens’ freedom of expression and assembly through the implementation of [the law].” China retaliated and imposed sanctions on several US citizens, including Rubio.
“[China] is tightening its stranglehold on Hong Kong and with that comes the targeting of Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders and activists,” Rubio said. “The US must do all it can to assist those Hong Kongers who have courageously stood up to defend the city they love from [China’s] persecution and open our doors to them.”
Other senators sponsoring the proposed legislation include Todd Young (R-IN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), John Cornyn (R-TX), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), James Lankford (R-OK), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Chris Coons (D-DE).
Refugees from Hong Kong will not be “subjected to numerical limitation.” Should the bill pass, a built-in sunset clause is set to terminate the Act’s effect after five years.