- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2006

The Department of Homeland Security is near an agreement with China to return up to 39,000 Chinese illegally living in the U.S. to the communist country, which previously had refused to accept deportations.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff yesterday said the tentative agreement, which would let the U.S. deport Chinese illegals as they are arrested, will act as a deterrent to other foreign nationals contemplating illegal immigration.

“We can’t be in the position any longer where we are paying the burden and bearing the burden for countries that won’t cooperate with us and take their own citizens back,” said Mr. Chertoff as he completed a weeklong tour of China, Japan and Singapore to discuss security and immigration issues.

Mr. Chertoff said nearly 700 Chinese nationals held in U.S. detention centers are clogging the system and that more than 38,000 have been released on bond after spending the maximum 180 days in lockup.

China has declined to accept the illegals, citing uncertainty about their identities.

“The Chinese government is resolutely opposed to … illegal immigration,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said. “First of all, we have to identify those illegal immigrants and based on that, China is willing to receive the repatriation of illegal immigrants.”

Federal immigration judges have issued final orders of removal to Chinese citizens smuggled into the U.S., students and others overstaying their visas, and some awaiting legal immigration.

DHS officials said details of the agreement still are being worked out, as are specific deportation plans. The department uses electronic bracelets to track some illegals released on bond and uses other monitoring programs, such as regular check-ins.

Returning Chinese citizens is a major financial burden for China and a “low priority,” Mr. Chertoff said.

“But they’ve got to understand it’s a high priority for us,” said Mr. Chertoff, who noted that it costs $95 per day to house each detainee.

China’s state-owned Xinhua News Agency reported that a senior official of the Communist Party of China (CPC) told Mr. Chertoff in one meeting that bilateral cooperation is essential to maintaining world peace, stability and development.

Bilateral cooperation on trade, terrorism, nuclear nonproliferation, avian flu and the nuclear buildup in Iran and North Korea also will be top priorities when Chinese President Hu Jintao visits Washington beginning April 20.

“China hopes to make substantial achievements in extradition, fighting terrorism, Olympic Games security and illegal migration,” said Luo Gan, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee.

William Knocke, Homeland Security spokesman, said a senior department official will remain in China for a few extra days to finish the agreement.

“We are encouraged by our discussions with the Chinese government,” Mr. Knocke said. “There are details that we need to still work through, but now we have an agreement, in principle, on streamlining the process of repatriating Chinese nationals.”

China is at the top of the list of foreign countries that refuse to cooperate with repatriation when their citizens are caught residing in the U.S. illegally.

When asked which other nations refuse to accept their citizens caught illegally in the U.S., Mr. Knocke said, “We’re not above naming names if other governments continue to be uncooperative, but the meetings in China were very productive, and we are optimistic about other possible outcomes.”

• This article based in part on wire service reports.

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