WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) was joined by Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Chris Coons (D-Del.) in re-introducing the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act. This bipartisan legislation would 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. The bill is in response to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) draconian national security law, the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
The Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act would:
(1) Grant certain Hong Kongers Priority 2 Refugee Status: Hong Kongers who participated peacefully in the protest movement and have a well-founded fear of persecution will be eligible for Priority 2 Refugee processing in Hong Kong or a third country. Refugees from Hong Kong will not be subjected to the numerical limitation.
(2) Waive Immigration Intent as a Factor for Non–Immigrant Visas: For those Hong Kongers who have been arrested for protest-related offenses or served in a humanitarian or organizing role in the protests, the intent to immigrate will not be considered as a factor for non-immigrant visas to ease the way for an asylum claim.
(3) Treat Revocation of Hong Kong Residency in Retaliation for Applying for Refugee Status or a U.S. Visa as Political Persecution: If Beijing revokes the residency of Hong Kongers for applying for refugee status or a U.S. visa, then those individuals will remain eligible for refugee status as victims of political persecution.
(4) Sunset Clause: The bill will cease to have an effect five years after its enactment.
“The CCP is tightening its stranglehold on Hong Kong and with that comes the targeting of Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders and activists,” Rubio said. “We have already seen activists, including Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and others get dragged away to prison for nothing more than exercising the rights guaranteed to them. The U.S. must do all it can to assist those Hong Kongers who have courageously stood up to defend the city they love from the CCP’s persecution and open our doors to them. I am proud to re-introduce this bipartisan bill that will do just that. We must also continue to encourage like-minded nations to make similar accommodations in support of those Hong Kongers in need of safe harbor.”
“As the people of Hong Kong continue to face Beijing’s tightening grip on their autonomy, freedoms and basic human rights, the United States must hold its torch high and proud for the tired, the poor and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Chairman Menendez said. “We are introducing this bipartisan legislation to reiterate to the Chinese Communist Party that the United States stands foursquare with the people of Hong Kong and that we are committed to ensuring that they will not fall through the cracks of our broken immigration system if they seek refuge for standing up for their rights.”
“Hong Kongers have lived in fear for far too long. I’ve been vocal about condemning the Chinese Communist Party’s egregious and numerous human rights violations. Last year, I sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of State encouraging the United States to work with the United Kingdom and Australia to welcome Hong Kongers seeking refuge from the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian crackdown,” Young said. “I’m proud to keep this push moving forward with the reintroduction of the bipartisan Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act.”
“China’s continued oppression of the people of Hong Kong must come to an end,” Cardin said. “The Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act makes clear that the United States will not stand idly by as Beijing continues its authoritarian tactics to target peaceful demonstrations and freedom of speech. Peaceful protest is the backbone of democracy and must be protected at all costs.”
“If we want to fulfill our founders’ hope that this county would be a beacon of hope for the oppressed around the world, then we can’t slam the door in the face of Hong Kongers who are being persecuted for standing up in support of democracy,” Merkley said, who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee and is a member of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC). “We must immediately create a pathway to safety in America for the victims of these brutal Chinese crackdowns on basic human rights and freedoms, and hold the perpetrators of those attacks accountable.”
“I have been moved by the courage of the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong in the face of increased repression and Chinese government meddling. It is appalling that thousands of protesters in Hong Kong have been persecuted for fighting for the liberties that Americans enjoy,” Durbin said. “I believe that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle share my feelings about the crisis in Hong Kong. The question is – what are we willing to do about it? We should act quickly to pass legislation to protect Hong Kongers in need, and show them and the world that Congress stands united on a bipartisan basis in the face of China’s repression.”
“China wants to suppress pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong, limiting Hongkongers’ access to the internet, and silencing freedom-loving people. The US should not turn a blind eye to Beijing’s suppression efforts,” Lankford said. ”The Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act allows eligible Hongkongers to seek refuge in the US to protect them from Chinese retaliation. China’s action to erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and clamp down on free people should not be taken lightly.”
“It would be a moral failure if the United States didn’t support individuals abroad exercising their right to speak and assemble freely and peacefully, especially when it comes to Hong Kongers dissenting against the Chinese government,” Wyden said. “It’s critical that Congress provide safe harbor to Hong Kongers fleeing political persecution. The Chinese government needs to feel the consequences of undermining democracy and violating human rights, and Hong Kongers deserve our protection.”
“Protecting the persecuted is at the core of America’s leadership and our strength as a nation,” Blumenthal said. “Offering refuge for those fighting for democracy in Hong Kong will not only protect the lives of activists, it will also help constrain the worst abuses of the Chinese Communist Party. Our country’s willingness to help protestors escape persecution helps deter and discourage acts of authoritarian oppression. We should seize this moment to protect the people of Hong Kong, and show repressive regimes around the world that the United States stands by fellow citizens fighting for freedom.”
“The Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act provides refuge to those brave individuals who peacefully protested Beijing’s efforts to undermine freedom of speech and the right to assemble in Hong Kong,” Coons said. “China and the UK signed a treaty in 1984 that affords Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy. The rights of Hong Kong citizens should be respected and protected, and this bipartisan bill reaffirms our shared commitment to protect Hong Kongers facing persecution for exercising their fundamental rights.”
Rubio is Cochair of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.