Immigration judges will tell you that there is a striking resemblance among the asylum cases filed by Chinese nationals. Since 1989, when Congress passed a bill that directed the INS to give "careful consideration" to asylum applicants who expressed a fear of persecution related to China’s "one child" policy (search), Chinese “family planning” cases have been flooding the government’s inboxes like spam.
Though the first President Bush vetoed the bill, he implemented its major provisions by executive order in response to the Tiananmen Square (search) incident, directing that “enhanced consideration be provided under the immigration laws for individuals from any country who express a fear of persecution ... related to [their] country's policy of forced abortion or coerced sterilization.”
But like spam, Chinese family planning cases are almost never what they hold themselves out to be.
Bush (41)'s order marked what is probably the first time the U.S. government mapped out for aliens exactly how to obtain a grant of asylum, and word traveled across the Pacific almost instantly. In theory, giving asylum to the refugee is one of the noblest things a nation can do, but in practice, the asylum application is the form to pull out when there is no other legal basis to remain in the U.S.
When the executive order was first issued, many immigration judges took it to mean that they should grant asylum to any individual who testified that she believed she would be persecuted for violating China’s one child policy. But many thousands of grants later, immigration authorities began to conclude that most of the claims were fatuous.
The initial success of the Chinese family planning case spawned an industry. Like the famous Chinese language book "What You Need to Know about Life in America" -- which instructed its readers in the art of obtaining public assistance -- the names of immigration lawyers specializing in family planning cases were passed from one potential asylum seeker to the next.
There is now evidence that within the last two years, an actual asylum school has taken root among the language and training institutes of San Diego, Calif. Using a graduated tuition scheme and an actual textbook, the schoolmasters have taken money from Chinese nationals in exchange for training them for a successful family planning case. The scheme involves (and may still involve) three different packages at three different price points. The least expensive package -- let’s call it Coach Class -- gives students only the textbook and instructions in the basics of a family planning case. Business Class is more expensive, but in addition to the textbook and the instruction, you’ll get the fake documents that show that you’ve been arrested for fighting with the local cadre or undergone a forced sterilization. First Class, the most expensive package, gives you the textbook, the instructions, the fake documents, and the immigration lawyer.
The scheme began to unravel at the end of 2003 when a member of the immigration bench obtained a copy of the textbook (allegedly the textbook was nothing more than Xeroxed papers stapled together). After reviewing the different scripts it contained, the judge was able to spot them in the testimony he heard from asylum applicants. Reportedly, one judge at 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan was able to get a Chinese asylum applicant to admit, while on the stand, that his story was concocted by the San Diego asylum school.
All of this takes place in an environment in which many immigration judges could already predict, almost verbatim, an applicant’s answers to most questions in a Chinese family planning case. Our borders remain relatively open, despite the heroic work of our Border Patrol. Today -- as did his father before him -- President George W. Bush seeks to use immigration law as a political tool, mapping out exactly how an alien can gain legal entry to the U.S. It is for just that reason that our country remains the world’s foremost destination for the illegal immigrant.
Matt Hayes began practicing immigration law shortly after graduating from Pace University School of Law in 1994, representing new immigrants in civil and criminal matters. He is the author of The New Immigration Law and Practice, to be published in October.