IN CHINA, NO RIGHTS TO LIFE
The man from China sat in his chair and wept.
Thousands of miles from his homeland, Quan Lu had been answering questions in an airless room in Florence, Arizona.
"It must have been difficult for your wife," said the man sitting next to Lu, and with that simple remark, the tears rolled out of the young man's eyes.
Difficult? . . yes. . . .
Living in terror that the government would force her to undergo an abortion, Lu's pregnant wife had walked mile after hilly mile across rural China's craggy landscape trying to elude the birth-control police. She dragged the couple's toddler with her.
Faced with a staggering population and the unthinkable challenge of feeding, sheltering and clothing so many people, the Communist rulers had become ruthless environmentalists. Radical eco-bureaucrats have declared that no Chinese family can have more than one child.
Lu and his wife knew they were in violation of their country's rigid policy when she became pregnant a second time. But in China, where there is no social security, sons and daughters have traditionally been old-age insurance.
"I think about one child and it is not safe," said Lu. "It's only one child. When we get older, our children take care of us. I always come back and take care of my own mother and father."
To protect the life of their unborn child, Lu's wife quit her forestry job in the third month of her pregnancy, before she'd begun to show.
"She went into hiding," said Lu. "She lived a few days here, a few days there. Sometimes she lived for a couple of days with her parents, then a couple of days with mine. Sometimes with friends."
For the next six months, Lu's wife held her possessions in one hand and her toddler son in the other as she moved about.
"She and our child wandered on foot through the mountains until she gave birth in my parents' home."
Because Lu was a member of the Communist party and had even been a captain in his nation's army, the authorities made an example of the couple's defiance.
Lu was fined 10,000 RMB, more than three times the maximum an ordinary citizen would pay for violating the one-child edict, a sum large enough to wipe out his life savings and drive him into debt. And the couple feared this was not the end of the harassment.
Because Lu's wife had not been well at the onset of the pregnancy, the forced march sapped her strength.
"Before she gave birth, she had problems with her womb," said Lu. "After birth she had a lot of blood come out. The doctor said she was not healthy enough to be sterilized."
The authorities informed Lu that he must be neutered in his wife's place. Instead, he decided to flee the country and try to build a life for his family abroad.
In January of this year, Lu kissed his wife and children goodbye. Along with 112 countrymen, he boarded a ship that smuggled them illegally into Hawaii, where all were arrested.
Since February the group has been locked up in American cells. All 112 have applied for political asylum, with approximately one-third of the group claiming to be part of the democratic movement that culminated in the deaths at Tiananmen Square; the rest are birth-control resisters. Thirty-three of the Chinese have been shipped to Florence, Arizona. It is an unlikely stage for such heart-wrenching drama.
The judicial proceedings in Florence, though conducted in a permanent facility, might as well be unfolding in a trailer park.
The carpet, the walls, the ceiling tiles are all of that stamped-out-of-a-factory beige common to mobile homes. The Immigration and Naturalization Service guard has no gun or bullets in her holster. Near the judge's chair, a wooden pallet supports a large, industrial cardboard box containing an air-conditioning unit. Outside it is 105 degrees. Inside an attorney swats at a fly, catches it and crushes the insect beneath thick-soled shoes. Compelled to work one-week shifts in Florence, the judge and the attorneys never spend the night. They prefer commuting three hours a day by car to Phoenix to sleeping in the prison community. Everyone here labors far from reporters' questions. The INS attorney does not even bother to carry a business card.
The anonymity of this process and the fate of these refugees would change overnight if that champion of family values, George Bush, embraced the victims of planned parenthood gone insane.
Lu's case, for example, is loaded with the elements of a 60-second reelection commercial: Godless Communists performing unspeakable acts of abortion and sterilization in the name of family planning and the environment.
But George Bush is worse than silent about Lu's family.
In fact, the president's State Department actively opposed the granting of asylum to Lu and wrote a letter to the immigration court outlining its objections.
To be sure, the president has issued a vague proclamation supporting the victims of China's zero-population-growth policies, but these sentiments lack the force of law. They are mere words, and are nothing more than Bush's slippery attempt to have it both ways. While the president talked one game, the State Department got down to business.
George B. High, acting director of the Office of Asylum Affairs, Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs at the State Department, wrote the judge on July 29 regarding Lu's application: "With respect to fines, in cases where couples exceed a stipulated limit of children, our officers found that payment of fines ranging from 1,000 RMB to 3,000 RMB was standard. Arranging documentation and fares to travel to the United States would have been much more expensive. We do not rule out that a couple may be pressed to have one of them undergo a sterilization procedure. However, for your information, we have noted a pattern in many asylum applications based on China's population policy of claims that the wife was too ill to be sterilized, prompting the husband's fear of sterilization and his flight to the U.S."
The State Department may well be hearing such claims because the Communists have confronted the very real problem of overpopulation with draconian zealotry. Washington, D.C., bureaucrats should not be surprised; none of this is new business.
In 1988 a Chinese student, Li Quan Bang, pursuing an advanced degree in engineering in Phoenix, panicked when the Beijing government demanded that he and his pregnant wife return to China for an abortion. The wife, seven months into her pregnancy, learned that her elderly mother was being threatened nightly by government agents.
"My poor mother-in-law could not eat or sleep for worry over what they would do if we returned with a second child," said Bang.
"Her blood pressure was up and she was having severe headaches. We were afraid she would have a stroke."
The factory that had granted Bang's wife a leave to join her husband while he studied in Arizona wrote to the couple saying that the government had threatened reprisals against all of the employees in the ball-bearing plant if she did not return for an abortion.
The final letter to the couple summed up matters concisely: "Have you received our last express-mail letter? Have you taken any action as a result? The factory officials are anxious to know whether you have done as ordered. The punishment for this violation is very severe.
"If you cannot have this abortion done abroad, then the factory director orders you to return to China immediately. Any further delays and you will be punished according to the law.
"There is nothing ambiguous about our order! Make up your mind immediately!
"To your health!"
The official letters and the threats did not move Bush's State Department, which rejected the Bangs' application for asylum. The couple was allowed to remain in Arizona only after congressman Jon Kyl became interested in their plight and raised hell. That was four years ago.
Currently, the State Department has opposed asylum for all 112 Chinese apprehended in Hawaii; Bush's official position on the political and social unrest in China has been to support the Communist rulers. China, you see, represents a potential market of one billion consumers for American products. The debate over students crushed by tanks and parents forced into abortions and sterilizations is not free of economic consideration.
This country cannot absorb all of China's population problems. But the State Department is not arguing that these refugees are exceeding quotas. They argue that these people are not worthy of asylum. Surely there is a better standard. Our government already admits Chinese immigrants if they are millionaires whose investments can create ten jobs in the United States. Fair enough. The 112 peasants have promises of employment within the Chinese community of New York. If they have sponsors, if they have jobs, why are we sending them back?
In one seven-day period this month, the judge heard the cases of Lu, Yuan Zemin, Deng Jiaqi and Ping Woo.
After Zemin's first child, the government fitted his wife with an IUD. The couple paid a private doctor to remove the device. The government's abortionists came for his wife when she was eight months' pregnant. In the ensuing melee, Zemin's wife escaped to the distant home of relatives, but Zemin himself was beaten so savagely that he was left totally deaf in one ear and with only partial hearing in the other.
"My family and me left my home for eight years," explained Zemin. "In June of 1991, I thought it such a long time, everything should be fine, so I returned. On June 15, the government [workers] came to my house. They want to catch me and fine me. But I don't have much money. So they want to put me in jail. I run away. The government knock down my house. I have no place to live."
Jiaqi's story is worse. He said the Chinese government sterilized him after he and his wife exceeded the one-child-per-family limit. Immigration officers thought he was lying, so they pulled his pants down and spread-eagled him to inspect his crotch. With more efficiency than sensitivity, the INS reasoned that a female doctor could handle Jiaqi's testicles as well as any man. Apparently, no shred of dignity is beneath clumsy, bureaucratic insult.
The doctor could not decide what she was looking at. She wrote to the court: "Physical examination revealed no likely surgical scar on the scrotum, which may be due to the redundant scrotal sac with its many folds which may obviate the minute surgical cuts routinely used in vasectomies."
This thoughtless physical, done without warning or consultation with Jiaqi's attorney, does not call up the image of the Statue of Liberty, but it does reflect the INS perception that at times it looks like the entire Third World is climbing over America's white picket fence. These particular refugees have escaped the Droogish nightmare of Red Chinese environmentalists and are ensnared now in the grinding bureaucracy of immigration court.
It is truly no man's land.
Evidence, in any conventional sense, simply does not exist. Neither side can subpoena witnesses from Beijing. While the judge, the prosecutor and the defense attorney are learned and civil, the entire proceeding is murky at best. No one in Arizona speaks the particular dialect used by this boatload of Chinese peasants, so the court-appointed translator makes do with Mandarin, the tongue of the educated and elite. When a Los Angeles translator is located who does speak the correct dialect, his English is fortune-cookie rudimentary.
The law is clear that if the Communists apply harsh birth-control laws across the board, regardless of race, color or political creed--and that is just how the Marxists do it--there is no persecution and the refugees cannot be granted asylum. The law is equally clear that the judge can cite plenty of judicial exceptions, allowing in the desperate as he chooses. While the judge and the attorneys, each with 20-plus years of Western education, debate and consider events in mainland China of which they have absolutely no knowledge, a Chinese peasant who was working the Asian earth on his hands and knees last winter sits in unknowing stasis.
Alice's tea party made as much sense.
On September 9, a woman, Ping Woo, walked into the courtroom where her plea for asylum was ready to be heard. A poor peasant who dropped out of school after five years of instruction to keep her father's house, Woo had married a village farmer before running afoul of Chinese functionaries. Her personal possessions and toiletries have been repeatedly stolen by American prisoners in the seven months she has been caged. Woo has yet to adjust to jailhouse food.
Though the immigration judge smiled at her before the official proceedings began, she did not return the official's courtesy. Instead, she worried fingernails already bitten down to the quick.
And now something appeared to be going wrong. The translator explained that her attorney would not be coming. Would it be all right if this other lawyer, the one standing right here, took her case?
She shook her head, to say yes, but there was no way of knowing what went through her mind. Woo could not have guessed that the substitute attorney, Charles Kuck, represented a remarkable stroke of good fortune for her. He is one of those young attorneys whose belly still burns with a passion for justice. And he navigates the endless maze of immigration law skillfully.
Gently, Kuck coaxed out her story for the court.
The mother of two healthy boys, one 8, the other 4, Woo said she nonetheless ached for a little girl. And so she became pregnant and prayed.
Government agents appeared at her home in the middle of the night during her fifth month of pregnancy, claimed Woo.
"I was so scared and crying and begging them to let me keep my baby . . . but they did not listen to me. Instead, they pushed me into their truck."
Taken bodily to a local hospital, Woo was forced to submit to an abortion. Once the fetus, female, was removed from her womb, Woo's body collapsed in exhaustion and despair.
"I was deeply hurt both physically and emotionally after the abortion. I felt so helpless as a mother at my inability to protect my unborn baby from being cruelly destroyed. I was so depressed . . ."
Woo seemed to view her tragedy as fate. Her words described what happened almost as if the forces of nature intervened rather than government brutes and medical stooges: "I just . . . my wish could not come true. My baby daughter could not be born."
After many days in a hospital bed, Woo slowly regained the will to live. She still had her two boys, after all, and she was young enough, 29, to reasonably hope that there was time, plenty of time, to get pregnant again and have a little girl.
While still convalescing, Woo was informed that immediately after the abortion the doctors had also sterilized her.
This final, devastating bit of news was given to the bedridden Woo offhandedly, by a nurse.
After checking out of the hospital, Woo began making plans to leave China and join her husband.
When she had become pregnant with her third child, in August 1989, the Communists had threatened her husband with castration. One month later, he fled to America. Today, he lives surreptitiously and illegally in New York City.
In November 1991, she hugged and kissed her two boys and entrusted them to her sister.
Then she slipped over the border into Hong Kong.
From there Woo traveled to Thailand and then on to the Philippines. Using a phony passport, she flew to Hawaii, where the INS seized her.
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.
THE RUNNING MAN PAUL JOHNSON'S POLITICAL... v9-23-92
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.