Republican House members prodded the Biden administration Thursday to slap sanctions on China for refusing to cooperate in taking back its illegal immigrants, saying the U.S. should start refusing to dole out visas to would-be Chinese migrants.
The letter, first obtained by The Washington Times and led by Rep. Thomas Tiffany of Wisconsin, pointed to a rising tide of migrants from China who are showing up at the U.S.-Mexico border.
American officials say China is generally bad about taking back nationals entering illegally, so they are caught and released into the U.S. with little chance of being ousted.
The U.S. even struggles to send back serious criminals.
“This is something that the migrants and smugglers no doubt understand and helps explain the premium Chinese migrants are paying to make the dangerous trip,” Mr. Tiffany wrote with three Republican colleagues.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has long labeled China a “recalcitrant” country in taking back its deportees.
Beijing made its refusal explicit last summer after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveled to Taiwan. China’s foreign affairs ministry released a list of retaliatory steps, one of which was “suspending China-U.S. cooperation on the repatriation of illegal immigrants.”
Mr. Tiffany and his colleagues said U.S. law calls for sanctions to be imposed on countries that refuse that cooperation. Section 243(d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act says that when the homeland security secretary submits a notice that a country is remiss, the State Department shall cut off visas.
When the law was triggered in the past, visas were usually denied only to government officials and their families. The law allows for a categorical ban.
“What is perhaps more disturbing is that the administration seems to be doing very little to hold China’s unelected leaders and elites accountable. This makes little sense given that both of you have a powerful tool at your disposal to do exactly that,” the Republican lawmakers wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
The Republican lawmakers asked Mr. Mayorkas whether he had filed a notice flagging China, and if not, when he will.
If Mr. Blinken has been notified, the lawmakers asked for an explanation for why he hasn’t acted.
The State Department declined to comment on the letter and on its plans for China.
The Washington Times also reached out to the Department of Homeland Security.
Officials in the past have said imposing sanctions presents thorny questions of international relations and the State Department is reluctant to take that route.
China’s current status is unclear in public records.
ICE used to publish on its website a list of countries facing sanctions, and China was on that list. ICE deleted the list from its page in late February.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing says it is still offering “regular visa services,” according to the Republican lawmakers.
ICE data shows that just 137 people were deported to China in fiscal 2022 and 136 were deported in 2021. Those figures were down from 320 deported in 2020, 637 in 2019 and 726 in 2018.
Customs and Border Protection recorded more than 18,000 unauthorized entries by Chinese nationals in fiscal 2020, more than 23,000 in 2021 and nearly 28,000 last year. The rate has picked up in fiscal 2023, with January and February recording more than 3,000 per month.
Slightly less than half of those are coming across the southern border, and they are generally sneaking in between the official border crossings. At the northern border, almost all of the 1,550 Chinese migrants nabbed in January and February were encountered at border crossings.
Another 2,000 or so were encountered along the coast or at airports.
Few are being expelled under the Title 42 pandemic border shutdown, which means most are let into the U.S. and given a chance to make a case before an immigration judge. With China refusing to take back most people, it’s unlikely they will be returned even if they lose their cases.
The Republican lawmakers — Mr. Tiffany and Reps. Lance Gooden of Texas, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Andrew Ogles of Tennessee — pointed to the exorbitant rates that Chinese migrants pay smugglers to help them reach the U.S.
The Washington Times has reported cases of payments as high as $80,000 for Chinese migrants trying to sneak into California.
That helps fuel an overall migrant smuggling economy at the southern border of more than $20 billion a year, according to a Washington Times estimate.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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