President Biden declared a deportation amnesty for residents of Hong Kong who are in the U.S., saying Thursday that arrests and persecution by the Chinese government are putting people in danger and they deserve a “safe haven.”
The move, known officially as deferred enforced departure, means those in the U.S. illegally or on legal visas who would have to return home soon can stay without fear of deportation. They also can be granted work permits to support themselves.
“Offering safe haven for Hong Kong residents who have been deprived of their guaranteed freedoms in Hong Kong furthers United States interests in the region,” Mr. Biden said in announcing the move. “The United States will not waver in our support of people in Hong Kong.”
The move is the latest in a string of deportation amnesties that the Biden team has initiated or extended, covering hundreds of thousands of people.
Mr. Biden said the trigger for his amnesty is the People’s Republic of China’s crackdown on Hong Kong, which was supposed to be permitted special autonomy but is now a part of China.
The president noted a steady erosion of rights. Hong Kong police are making political arrests, and protesters are facing charges of sedition and terrorism.
“Over the last year, the PRC has continued its assault on Hong Kong’s autonomy, undermining its remaining democratic processes and institutions, imposing limits on academic freedom and cracking down on freedom of the press,” Mr. Biden said.
The amnesty lasts 18 months, though it can be extended. Indeed, most of the temporary deportation amnesties on the books have been routinely extended.
Some Central Americans have been living in the U.S. under temporary protections dating back to earthquakes and hurricanes that struck the region in 1999 and 2001.
Stephen Yale-Loehr, a leading immigration scholar and professor at Cornell Law School, said President George H.W. Bush took similar action to protect Chinese students in the U.S. after the massacre of protesters in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989.
Congress enacted legislation in 1992 granting the students a full pathway to citizenship.
“If the human rights situation in Hong Kong worsens, Congress may need to do that here as well,” Mr. Yale-Loehr said.
Deferred enforced departure is considered a foreign policy tool that presidents use to send messages to other countries and to protect people from unrest.
President Trump used deferred enforced departure powers to protect tens of thousands of Venezuelans in the U.S.
The Biden administration converted that into temporary protected status, a similar amnesty issued by the Homeland Security Department.
The White House didn’t say how many Hong Kong residents it expects to be eligible for relief.