In its formal response to the court, the State Department accused Woo of lying.
In a letter dated May 13, 1992, David T. Hopper, director, Office of Asylum Affairs, Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, wrote: "Because of the large number of low-credibility asylum applications by residents of Fujian Province's Chang Le County, State Department officers recently visited there to investigate the birth-control system and other characteristics. They found birth-control practices very liberal. Two children generally were permitted, and couples with three children are not uncommon. Although forced abortions were known to occur a decade ago and perhaps occur even today, we nevertheless believe that would be inconsistent with the situation in Chang Le. We strongly doubt this applicant's assertions, either about the birth limitations, or about forced abortion and castration."

Woo's attorney introduced two documents to counter the State Department's cynicism.

The first piece of paper, once translated, was a hospital record of Woo's abortion faxed out of China by her relatives. The second piece of evidence documented her sterilization with words that sounded as if Woo had won a state prize from the Communists: "[You are] now eligible for ligature birth control."

This amounted to an unusual level of support for Woo's case. But what did it actually prove regarding her truthfulness?

All of the applicants are evasive about the particulars of the silk pipeline that shuttled them to American shores. It does not enhance their credibility when they shroud the financial details of their immigration. But if these Chinese peasants are granted asylum and if they then must work out their debts with years of sweat-labor in a New York noodle shop, they keep it to themselves.

INS guard A.L. Ramirez may not believe everything she hears in the Florence courtroom, but she does not seem overly concerned, either, with the Chinese reluctance to name names.

"They all have saved money," said Ramirez during a break in the testimony. "They do not live lavishly like Americans. They are never in here on drug charges. That is not how they make their money."
Woo's husband had sent her $10,000 in American money that she turned over to her smugglers. They, in turn, had provided her with a phony passport. Would hospital records be any harder to produce?

The government's attorney, John Holya, finessed the problem of the documents' authenticity by ignoring the paperwork.

Pointing out that Woo had testified she fled China to join her husband, Holya argued, "What happened is certainly repugnant, and the government would agree that it is a terrible thing to have a forced abortion. However . . . what's happened is done. She is not facing abortion or sterilization."

The logic of the American government's lawyer was as true, cold and unforgiving as the scalpel that mutilated Woo's body.

Judge John Richardson had heard enough.
"I do find her credible," said Richardson. Describing the actions of the Chinese government as "base and vile," he granted Woo asylum on humanitarian grounds.

The first to congratulate her was INS attorney Holya, a man who seemed relieved with each case he lost.

That night Charles Kuck drove Ping Woo to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and put her on an airplane for New York City, just as he had done for Quan Lu, Yuan Zemin and Deng Jiaqi.

Although Kuck won asylum for the cases profiled here, not all of the detainees have been as fortunate. Three others represented by out-of-state lawyers lost their bids for freedom. Their appeals may take as long as two years, and they will remain incarcerated during that period. Kuck's clients, however, are tasting the excitement that begins with the first step toward citizenship.

America's newest residents posed for a journalist's photographs, not understanding a single word being uttered in their presence.

The day after Woo was reunited with her husband, an urgent telephone call came from the Chinese community in Manhattan. Please, said the caller, do not print their pictures. Do not use their real names. They all have family members still in China. The children and spouses can now legally come to America, but the aunts, the uncles, the grandparents must remain behind with the Communists.


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