President Biden has extended a program that allows certain residents of Hong Kong to stay in the United States as China has taken steps to limit the sovereignty of the city.
The White House said in a statement that it will extend Deferred Enforced Departure, which protects individuals from certain countries who are living in the U.S. from being removed for a certain period of time, for individuals from Hong Kong for an additional 24 months.
Biden originally issued protection for the Hong Kong residents on Aug. 5, 2021, and their protection was set to expire on Feb. 5.
The White House cited the increasingly aggressive steps that China has taken in recent years to restrict the “human rights and fundamental freedoms” of the people of Hong Kong as the reason behind the extension.
China enacted a law in June 2020 to allow for citizens of Hong Kong, which is considered a special administrative region of China, to be extradited to the mainland to stand trial for crimes.
The White House said at least 150 political opponents, activists and protesters have been arrested on politically motivated charges related to the law since it was put into effect. More than 1,200 “political prisoners” are currently in jail, and more than 10,000 have been arrested on charges related to anti-government protests, the statement said.
“The [People’s Republic of China] has continued its assault on Hong Kong’s autonomy, undermining its remaining democratic processes and institutions, imposing limits on academic freedom, and cracking down on freedom of the press,” it said.
Hong Kong was controlled by the United Kingdom until it was handed over to China in 1997. But Hong Kong has largely maintained its own government, and a 1985 treaty between the UK and China states that Hong Kong should continue to keep its own government for 50 years after the handoff occurred.
Members of the international community condemned the law as violating Hong Kong’s independence and the treaty. A series of protests broke out throughout the city in response to the law.
Hong Kong’s public broadcaster was reportedly told shortly after the law went into effect that it should support the Chinese government and the national security law.
The White House said foreign policy considerations also provide a rationale for extending the program, as continuing to offer a “safe haven” will advance U.S. interests in the region.
The extension will apply to any Hong Kong resident present in the U.S. on the date it was issued, except for those who have voluntarily returned to Hong Kong or China after it was issued, have not continuously resided in the U.S. since the date of the extension, who are subject to extradition and who are not admissible into the country under federal immigration law.
It will also not apply to those who have been convicted of a felony or two or more misdemeanors, who have been determined to be a danger to public safety and whose presence “the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds to believe would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences.”
Source: The Hill