- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2000


In Chinese, the character for the Fujian province is that of a snake behind bars.

The snake represents the Chinese soul yearning to emigrate. When the snake escapes his country, he turns into a dragon. The Chinese Year of the Dragon begins today for dozens of "dragons" scattered across the northeastern United States men who escaped their homeland under perilous circumstances to flee to the United States.

Unlike Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old Cuban fished out of the Atlantic Ocean Thanksgiving Day, these men were greeted with lengthy prison sentences.

Some of them, like welder Ben Xu Chen, 38, got out after only a year in the York County prison. He managed to get his children flown to the United States, but his wife is stuck in China due to a bureaucratic problem with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Desperate, the father took to walking the halls of Congress last spring with his young son in tow.

"Please," the child said to any politician who would listen, "help me bring my mommy here."

Others, like You Yi Yang, 36, a master textile weaver, are marooned in this small, central Pennsylvania town while his wife, Chin Chen, brings up three children alone. She was forcibly sterilized after the third birth. Although an immigration judge finally awarded him conditional asylum in March 1999, 11 months later the INS has yet to review and approve that decision. Until it does, Mr. You cannot get a green card, which takes another three years. Only then can he send for his family.

It's easy to despair under such circumstances, which is why Mr. You spends Sunday, his one free day, on the 180-mile drive to New York's Chinatown to see friends.

"I would like a house," the weaver admits. "I miss my family. They have better food and weather."

Nearly seven years have passed since 282 refugees landed on a cold beach in the New York Harbor after the ship smuggling them, the Golden Venture, ran aground. Three years ago this month, President Clinton mandated all the Golden Venture refugees be freed from federal prisons. Because of a 1996 law allowing the United States to grant refugee status up to 1,000 persons a year who can prove their country forced population controls on them, refugee advocates figured Golden Venture clients would be at the top of the 1997 list.

Three years later, exactly two men have made the list. The rest are stuck in a no-man's land of INS hearings, lost records, unsympathetic judges and foot-dragging attorneys.

"The Golden Venture men were singled out since Day One," says Beverly Church, the indefatigable refugee advocate in York. "In all the documents, they have 'GV' by their names. You don't see that in other immigration cases. I don't condone mass immigration, but once they got here, they were treated like animals."

Rick Kinny, spokesman for the Board of Immigration Appeals in Falls Church, allowed that either "CH" for China or "GV" was marked on these men's forms, but only to help the INS track their progress. His organization is swamped with requests for asylum because of coercive population policies, he said. Except for 1997, they have had many more requests than the 1,000 mandated slots.

Mrs. Church responds there's "no logic" to how the INS works. "Some of the refugees have been told by the INS that it no longer has their files," she says. "The INS' terminology is they've 'exhausted their remedies.' Well, a lot of them never got presented with their remedies."

Many of the original hearings were either conducted over the phone or through interpreters who didn't speak their dialect, she says. Others had lawyers who neglected to pursue their cases or who demanded more and more money for further services.

Of the original boatload of 282, 35 received asylum. About 100 were deported to China. Others escaped, died or emigrated to other countries.

About 50 refugees languished in jail for 3 and 1/2 years. They were freed only when Rep. Bill Goodling, Pennsylvania Republican, appealed to President Clinton on their behalf. Meanwhile, Mr. You's artwork had landed him a coveted artist's visa from INS. A small local weaving business, Family Heirloom Weavers, offered him a job.

"The first time he came into the shop, he put two threads together and tied a weaver's knot," owner David Kline said. "He's cocky."

Mr. You settled in, calling Mr. Kline "Dad-Boss" and his wife, Carole, "Mom." Mrs. Kline cooked rice each day for their new employee. In three years, Mr. You has upped the company's output by 50 percent, as he spends 60 hours a week at the nine busily churning looms. The small factory produces period fabric for Civil War re-enactors, upholstery fabric and historically themed draperies, and blankets with Pennsylvania Dutch patterns.

In February 1998, the INS pulled Mr. You's artist's visa, claiming he was not internationally famous enough. His lawyer fired back with a sheaf of letters and newspaper clippings demonstrating her client's talents. The Klines, who are in their late 60s, say they would be devastated if their prize employee is deported. They are planning on selling him half of the company when they retire. He would become joint owner with their son, Patrick.

Other Chinese endure a punishment that never ends. Wang Wu-dong, whose story was detailed in Newsday, was also on the Golden Venture. The father of two children was deported to China. Afraid he would try to impregnate his wife a third time, seven or eight Chinese cadres dragged his wife to a clinic, where she was injected with an epidural in her spine.

As she watched in horror, doctors cut open her abdomen and removed her uterus, charging her $12.50 for the service. When her husband arrived home a few days later and saw what had happened, he cried for days.

Soon afterward, he slipped off again for a ship bound for the United States. On May 30, 1998, his luck ran out again when his ship's captain got lost in the fog and beached the vessel. The INS arrested everyone, including Mr. Wang. He awaits an asylum hearing in New York.

Mr. Chen, the welder, was fined heavily after his wife bore their second child, a son. He hid out in the hills for two years. Afraid of being assaulted, forcibly sterilized or worse, he too left for America on the Golden Venture.

Once in jail, Mr. Chen got the ear of a sympathetic judge and even got approval to bring his two children, Boa Chen and Mei Qing, to the United States. But the INS refused to recognize his marriage certificate, despite the two children and a wedding photograph.

So, Mr. Chen returned to China in April 1998 and remarried his wife. The INS continued to balk, so he had to leave her in China and return with the two children. Just last week, he heard the INS had finally approved her immigrant visa.

"He was so excited, he was crying," Mrs. Church said. "We don't know what all this means, but at least there's hope."

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