US Extends Deportation Protection Program For Hongkongers Seeking Refuge

US Extends Deportation Protection Program For Hongkongers Seeking Refuge
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the State Dining Room at the White House on Nov. 9, 2022. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

U.S. President Joe Biden announced on Jan. 26, the extension and expansion of the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for Hong Kong residents. Hong Kong residents will not be forced to leave the country in January, and they must be in the United States on or before the date of the announcement (Jan. 26). The extended period is longer than the 18 months previously requested by all parties.

In the memorandum signed by Biden, it was mentioned that the United States supports the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Hong Kong residents and criticized the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for continuing to erode these rights and freedoms.

The memorandum recalls that in June 2020, the CCP unilaterally imposed the National Security Law on Hong Kong, undermining the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration. It also accused the CCP of continuing to upend Hong Kong’s autonomy and undermining its remaining democratic processes and institutions, restricting academic freedom, and suppressing press freedom.

Since the implementation of the Hong Kong National Security Law, at least 150 politicians, social activists, and demonstrators who oppose the government have been detained on charges related to the National Security Law, including secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign forces. More than 1,200 political prisoners are being held in jail, and more than 10,000 people have been arrested in connection with protests against the government.

Biden pointed out that the United States is committed to following a foreign policy that combines its democratic values with foreign policy goals. The core is to defend democracy and promote human rights around the world. He reiterated that providing a safe haven for Hong Kong residents who are deprived of freedom and protection in Hong Kong can promote the interests of the United States in the region. And they will “continue to stand firm in our support of the people in Hong Kong.”

The Hong Kong Democratic Committee (HKDC), an American group of Hong Kong people, expressed its gratitude over the decision, describing that thousands of people have benefited from DED in the past 18 months, and have been able to live, study, work, and continue to fight for Hong Kong. “We are all relieved to know that the most basic security is guaranteed for the next 24 months,” the committee added.

In a report last November by the U.S. Congressional Research Service, citing data as estimates from the Department of Homeland Security, there were 3,860 Hong Kong residents eligible for DED in March 2021.

DED Implemented in 2021

The original memorandum signed on Aug. 5, 2021, allowed Hong Kong people who were in the U.S. at the time to extend their stay for another 18 months until Feb. 5, 2023. Under the said arrangement, Hong Kong residents who entered the United States before Aug. 5, 2021, can apply for an “Employment Authorization Document (EAD)” to work legally in the United States.

At the time, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said that Biden’s actions showed his strong support for Hong Kong people as the CCP continued to suppress Hong Kong, and reflected that the U.S. will never stay aloof while the CCP continues to undermine its commitment to Hong Kong and the international community.

Before the expiry of the DED, 47 Hong Kong people’s organizations in the U.S. co-signed a petition in December 2022, urging Biden to extend and expand the DED. At that time, the group sent a letter requesting that the United States extend the DED for another 18 months and expand the scope to include Hong Kong residents who entered the country after Aug. 5, 2021. It also asked the U.S. authorities to consider upgrading the protection of Hong Kong people to a “Temporary Protected Status (TPS)” or ”Priority 2 Refugee” status.

The HKDC stated on its Facebook account a few days ago that two Democratic senators and one congressman wrote to Biden last week requesting the extension of the DED for at least another 18 months. Apart from accusing the Hong Kong government of eroding the human rights of Hong Kong citizens protected under international law, the three U.S. legislators also believe that the authority’s act against human rights and political persecution “will continue into the indefinite future.”

Gregory W. Meeks, a senior member of the House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committee, stated on Jan. 13, describing the DED is just a temporary solution. The U.S. government must take further “vital and solid” actions to ensure that Hong Kong’s democracy advocates, human rights activists, journalists, and dissidents are given longer-term support and guarantee. He plans to reintroduce the “Hong Kong Freedom and Choice Act” in Congress to provide Temporary Protected Status and fast-track refugee pathways for eligible Hong Kong residents.