About 13,500 immigrants who were granted asylum status in the United States before December 2012—most of them Chinese—are now facing possible deportation because they may have lied on their asylum applications.
U.S. immigration officials are reviewing about 3,500 asylum cases and 10,000 “derivative asylum status” cases that involve family members of asylees, according to a Sept. 28 report by National Public Radio.
A person who has been granted asylum status can petition the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for their family members to legally stay in the United States with derivative status. This status doesn’t expire, provided that there is no change in the circumstances of the asylee.
The asylum cases are under review because they were handled by people who were convicted during Operation Fiction Writer, a 2012 investigation by federal prosecutors in New York that rounded up 30 immigration lawyers, paralegals, and interpreters suspected of committing immigration fraud. Federal prosecutors said they helped immigrants in Flushing and Manhattan’s Chinatown to obtain asylum status with fabricated stories of persecution in China.
Katherine Tichacek, spokesperson for USCIS, said in a written statement on Sept. 28, “USCIS, ICE Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, and the Executive Office of Immigration Review are reviewing these cases to maintain the integrity in our nation’s asylum system and to ensure that the original asylum grant was lawfully obtained.”
Details about how asylum applications could be falsified were exposed in the NPR story. A Chinese man, who asked to be identified as Lawrence, was among those nabbed during Operation Fiction Writer. He cooperated with the FBI during the 2012 investigation to obtain incriminating evidence against fraudulent immigration lawyers between 2011 and 2014.
Lawrence, an immigrant who arrived in New York City in 2005, said that while working for a lawyer named Ken Giles beginning in 2007, he managed to learn “the ins-and-outs of the asylum fraud business.” About a year later, he started working for another firm that was run by a woman named Liu Fengling.
At Liu’s firm, Lawrence was a story writer: His job was to come up with fake stories about the suffering that the firm’s clients had been through. Usually, the stories claimed that the client was either targeted by the Chinese regime for a religious or political reason, or that the client was a victim of China’s family-planning policies.
Before Beijing relaxed its decade-long one-child policy in 2016, women with “unapproved” pregnancy either had to pay a fine to keep their child, or were subjected to forced and coerced abortions. The brutality of the regime’s policies was perhaps best encapsulated by a 2013 case, in which local authorities in Hunan Province forced a woman in the seventh month of pregnancy into labor and subsequently killed the baby. The woman was reportedly left traumatized by the incident.
Lawrence estimated that he wrote 500 to 600 fake stories while working for Liu. He even put up a study guide, including profiles that the firm’s employees had compiled on asylum officers, complete with information on what questions and answers each officer preferred during asylum-application interviews.
In 2014, Liu was tried and found guilty of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud. Giles was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy. Lawrence was sentenced to just six months probation because of his cooperation with the FBI.
According to NPR, Chinese immigrants have been granted asylum more than any other nationality. For example, in 2016, 20,455 individuals were granted asylum, with 22 percent of them Chinese immigrants, followed by Salvadorans with 10 percent, and Guatemalans with 9 percent.
Because asylum-seekers must prove targeted persecution by their home governments, many Chinese illegal immigrants fabricate claims of being persecuted for participation in democratic activism in China, as well as for religious reasons such as being a Christian or an adherent of Falun Gong.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is an ancient spiritual discipline that became very popular in China in the 1990s. It is based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance and involves doing slow, meditative exercises. The Chinese Communist Party showed support for the discipline initially, but after Falun Gong grew in popularity—to more than 100 million practitioners, according to official estimates—then-Party leader Jiang Zemin launched a nationwide persecution, deeming Falun Gong’s popularity a threat to his rule.
Since July 1999, at any given time, hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong adherents are held in prison, brainwashing centers, and labor camps, in an effort to force them to renounce their beliefs, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center.
Many Falun Gong adherents from mainland China have since escaped to other countries seeking asylum to avoid the ongoing persecution; practitioners are still arbitrarily arrested for admitting to practicing their faith or disseminating information to the public about the persecution. However, there have been many examples of Chinese illegal immigrants pretending to be an adherent of Falun Gong—by having their pictures taken at public events hosted by Falun Gong adherents or memorizing texts from the Falun Gong teachings, for example—in an effort to obtain asylum in other countries.
Fake Falun Gong practitioners have been exposed in South Korea, for example. According to an April 2017 report by the Chinese-language edition of The Epoch Times, two Chinese nationals who traveled to Jeju Island in South Korea under a visa waiver program decided to file for asylum there. When they traveled to another South Korean city against asylum application rules, they were arrested by the local police, at which point authorities discovered the two had lied about being Falun Gong adherents in their applications.
The two had paid 5 million South Korean won (about $4,464) to a “middleman” who helped them claim on their applications that they were Falun Gong practitioners facing persecution.