Voice For Life: speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves

Congressman seeks freedom for remaining refugees

August 15, 1997

The events of the past six months (or lack thereof) have been very discouraging. When the Golden Venture refugees were freed, many people felt that the Chinese refugee "problem" was "over." However, we knew we could never rest until all of the other Chinese refugees were also freed. While we tried to use every opportunity available to speak up for the Chinese refugees who continue to be incarcerated, too often it seemed that even those who worked with us for the freedom of the Golden Venture refugees would not try to "finish the job" (with the notable exception of Amnesty International, which has continued to strongly advocate freedom for all of the refugees). We encouraged many of you to contact Congressmen Chris Smith and William Goodling, who had been two of the primary advocates of freedom for the refugees, asking for their help for the remaining refugees. Finally, these efforts appear to have brought forth good fruit: Congressman Chris Smith has written this letter, echoing the concerns we have continually expressed over the last six months: "the way that these Chinese detainees are treated should not be determined by something as arbitrary as the name of the ships they arrived on." Thank you to all of you who took the time to write or call Congressman Smith or Goodling. Your gentle pressure helped to produce this breakthrough for the refugees. Let this be a reminder to all of us that even "good" Congressmen need to be continually held accountable by the People.

- Tim Palmquist

On August 6, Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, wrote the following letter to INS Commissioner Doris Meissner, pleading for freedom for Zhou Shiu Yon and the other Chinese refugees who continue to be incarcerated.

Dear Commissioner Meissner:

In February of this year, the Administration decided to parole from detention the remaining 53 Chinese nationals who arrived in the United States on the Golden Venture vessel in 1993, noting "the exceptional and unusual length of detention of the Golden Venture migrants." At that time, the Immigration and Naturalization Service also explained that decision by noting that "humanitarian concerns have also arisen from the continued, extended detention of the 'Golden Venture' Chinese."

As you know, I applauded your parole decision, which was more than warranted by the length of time that those detainees had been imprisoned. I am writing today to ask you to the same treatment, for the same reasons, to other Chinese asylum seekers who have been subjected to what the White House characterized as the "exceptional and unusual length of detention" faced by the Golden Venture passengers. Specifically, I ask you to consider granting humanitarian parole to Zhou Shiu Yon....

All of the humanitarian equities that led to parole for the Golden Venture detainees apply with equal force to these asylum seekers. The way that these Chinese detainees are treated should not be determined by something as arbitrary as the name of the ships that they arrived on. These good-faith asylum applicants from one of the most oppressive regimes on earth have now been imprisoned far longer than most illegal border-crossers, and even longer than many violent criminals. As a result of their unusually long detention, some of them have developed serious health problems. The duration and conditions of their imprisonment certainly have fulfilled whatever concerns the United States has in deterring illegal entry into this country, and their continued detention -- which does not affect the outcome of their immigration proceedings -- serves no purpose, except to exacerbate humanitarian concerns for their welfare.

... Zhou Shiu Yon fled from China to the United States in 1993, after the Chinese government informed her that she would be required to abort her pregnancy because she was below the government's minimum childbearing age.... After her flight, her brother was detained and questioned by Chinese authorities about her disappearance and her refusal to abort her baby. On the ship, Ms. Zhou developed severe abdominal pains, and was airlifted to a hospital in San Diego, California, where she was diagnosed with a tubular pregnancy, for which she underwent an emergency abortion, during which a portion of her fallopian tubes and one ovary were removed.

After her surgery, Ms. Zhou was transferred to the Lerdo Detention Center in Bakersfield, California, where she has been held during the intervening four years. Her cell has a cement floor, no natural light, poor ventilation, an erratic temperature, and is apparently infested with biting insects. During her detention, Ms. Zhou has suffered serious complications from her ectopic pregnancy, and she has been hospitalized at least twice. She has repeatedly complained about stomach problems and has been prescribed pain killers. Although she has exhibited signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Ms. Zhou has not received mental health care during her detention, and she is still unclear about why she required an emergency abortion when she first arrived in the United States.

I am very concerned that apparent procedural irregularities may have prejudiced the asylum application of Ms. Zhou.... I would hope that Ms. Zhou's new Motion to Reopen ... will be given very careful consideration under the new law. In the meantime, I ask that you consider granting humanitarian parole to this woman who has already suffered so much.

According to information previously provided to the Subcommittee, the following Chinese asylum seekers had been imprisoned for a period of time comparable to that which the Golden Venture applicants endured.... I am especially concerned by reports that the hardships of their unusually long detention have convinced some of these applicants to ask to return to China, especially in light of reports that returning Golden Venture detainees were regularly subjected to beatings, imprisonment, and severe fines by the Chinese government.


Congressman Smith's letter provides us with another opportunity to "speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves." Whether or not you have previously contacted any of the people listed below, please take the time to do so now. Your efforts could help to hasten the day when Zhou Shiu Yon and the others are freed.

To register your concerns with the White House, we recommend calling Eric Schwartz. He has been dealing directly with this issue, and opinions expressed to him will be much more effective than opinions expressed to the White House comment line.

In addition, please consider contacting Rep. Chris Smith and Rep. William Goodling to thank them for their continued efforts to free the refugees.

Eric Schwartz (202) 456-9141
Eric Schwartz fax (202) 456-9140
White House switchboard (202) 456-1414
White House comment line (202) 456-1111
President's e-mail address president@whitehouse.gov
Attorney General Janet Reno (202) 514-2001
Immigration and Naturalization Service (202) 514-4330
Rep. William Goodling (202) 225-5836
Rep. Chris Smith (202) 225-3765.

This letter was ignored. However, these refugees were eventually freed through other means. For more information, consult other links on this site.

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