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.