Ben Sasse’s Hong Kong Asylum Scheme Won’t Help

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) calls himself a “China hawk.” And his proposal for the U.S. to grant “automatic asylum” to Hong Kong residents seems, well, bird-brained.

The Nebraskan was reacting to Beijing’s latest crackdown on the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. Certainly, there’s nothing to like about Beijing’s heavy-handed suppression of dissent. But while the Chinese Communist government is repressive, that does not mean everyone who lives under such regimes meets the qualifications for asylum.

Per U.S. immigration law, asylum seekers need to show they are likely to be singled out for persecution based on race, religion, political belief, etc., in order to gain admission to this country. If simply living under a dictatorial system were grounds for “automatic” entry, America would be flinging open its doors to much of humanity.

Bestowing blanket asylum to hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of Hong Kongers is particularly ill-advised at a time when U.S. unemployment is soaring. The latest research shows that immigrants, whatever their status, have been especially vulnerable to job losses during the ongoing coronavirus shutdown.

Sasse’s gambit also lacks historical and cultural perspective. Hong Kong was under British rule for 100 years, and Hong Kong Chinese have special rights in Britain. In fact, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already offered refuge to some 3 million Hong Kong residents. 

If Sasse really wants to be tough on China, pulling dissidents out of Hong Kong is the wrong way to go about it. Dissidents can be formidable agents for change, and the experience of Cuba shows what happens when critical elements leave en masse. Their exodus broke any remaining resistance on the island, clearing the way for Fidel Castro to lock down his Caribbean gulag, unreconstructed.

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