Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
On Friday, GOP Senator Ted Cruz blocked a non-partisan law granting political asylum to Hong Kong residents after they fled China’s increasingly oppressive rule. The primary writer Eric Boehm has an excellent article criticizing Cruz’s lame reasons for his actions. Among other things, he points out that the same theory would have justified keeping Cruz’s own father (who came to the US as a refugee from Cuba) away:
First, Cruz politicized the attempt to provide an exit strategy for Hong Kongers, calling the bill a democratic conspiracy to “advance their long-standing goals of changing immigration laws.” But the bill contains a non-partisan list of co-sponsors and was passed by vote earlier this month – usually an indicator of support so broad that no appeal is required.
Second, Cruz slandered Hong Kong refugees as potential spies, arguing that China would use special immigration status to bring its agents to the United States. That being said, China doesn’t seem to have any problems with this, and political asylum recipients would need to undergo a background check before their status is granted. If anything, passing the bill would ensure immigrants from Hong Kong to America face more trials than they could otherwise get.
Here, too, the story of Cruz’s father is in stark contrast. Before he fled to America, Rafael Cruz worked for the Castro government in Cuba [small correction by IS: he actually supported Castro before the latter came to power, but later recanted those views after coming to the United States]. If Ted were a member of the US Senate at that time, would he have viewed his own father as a potential spy who should not be entrusted with political asylum? …
Aside from Cruz’s biography, there is one more important and obvious point. Granting political asylum to Hong Kong people who want to flee China is absolutely right for the United States, politically and economically.
Politically, the image of tens of thousands of Hong Kongers fleeing China’s takeover of the city by moving to the United States would be an international humiliation for the Beijing regime. Because of this, China has tried to prevent the UK from extending special immigration status to Hong Kong residents – and the UK has responded correctly by setting its passport machines to 11.
In economic terms, China’s loss would be America’s gain. An influx of Hong Kong people – and the knowledge, skills, money, and entrepreneurship it would bring – would be an economic boon to the United States, especially if it settles in areas where the population is stagnant or stagnant going back.
Instead of taking this opportunity, America got the drama of a child of a political refugee slamming a door on people seeking the same opportunity his own father had once been given.
I would add that the anti-espionage rationale could and has often been used to exclude refugees from almost any repressive regime that is hostile or potentially hostile to the US. Among other things, this was one of the reasons for the banning of Jews who fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s. This is one of many objections to the extension of migration rights that can easily be addressed through “keyhole solutions” that solve potential problems with more targeted and less draconian means than keeping people out. We can simply screen people before we give them access to classified information, as routinely happens with US-born Americans applying for jobs with security screening.
If there are fears that Hong Kong refugees might give the Chinese government information that is not classified but is readily available to the public, Chinese intelligence services (and other adversaries) can easily obtain it anyway. One of the costs of a generally free society is that everyone, including foreign powers, wants a wide range of useful information. However, this disadvantage is outweighed by the potential advantages of openness, as demonstrated by the success of relatively free societies in the competition of closed authoritarian and totalitarian states.
In this May post, I offered a more detailed defense of Hong Kong acceptance and the extension of that openness to include victims of mainland Chinese government repression (some of whom have suffered far worse atrocities than anything seen in Hong Kong to date ). In this post, I will also address a number of other objections to opening the door to Chinese refugees, including claims that it could spread the Covid-19 virus and that it would be unfair to prefer Chinese refugees to those elsewhere are exposed to comparable oppression. Among other things, I’ve highlighted how many Conservatives – including now Cruz, who has particularly strong reasons to know better – have forgotten the lessons their ideological ancestors learned during the Cold War:
During the Cold War, American Conservatives readily understood that accepting refugees from Cuba, the Soviet Union, and other communist nations greatly enhanced America’s standing and undermined that of the Communists. The better political system is one under which people “vote their feet” to live, not one under which many risked their lives to flee. I myself have been one of the lucky beneficiaries of this understanding.
Tragically, many conservatives today have lost sight of what their predecessors knew. Instead of welcoming Chinese, they stupidly want to make it harder for them to come by, for example, by refusing Chinese students to study STEM subjects at US universities (after which many try to stay in the US and continue to contribute to the economy and to contribute to our technological development). It’s almost like these supposed China hawks would prefer the brutal Chinese government to keep control of as many talented people as possible.
If we want, we can be the nation again that the people of our opponents would like to join. This is a much better picture than of being the nation that closes its doors and brutally separates families at the border for almost all migrants and refugees seeking permanent residence. The former nation is not only more just than the latter. It also has a much better chance of effectively countering China in geopolitical competition and of winning world opinion for us.