Fearing a presidential veto, hundreds of local Chinese students and scholars have joined a nationwide effort urging President Bush to sign a bill that would enable them to apply for permanent residency beginning July 1 if conditions in China do not allow their safe return.
"Basic human rights violations continue . . . in today's China, even though the world has gone through tremendous changes," said Feifei Jin, president of the 500-member Chinese Students and Scholars Assn. at UCLA. "Arbitrary detention of ordinary citizens still widely exists, not to mention systematic unfair treatment of dissidents."
The association, joined by students from Caltech and USC, last week sent a petition bearing hundreds of signatures to the White House.
In the wake of the Chinese government's brutal crackdown against the pro-democracy demonstrations at Tian An Men Square in 1989, Congress passed a bill that would have exempted Chinese students from an immigration law requiring students to return to their home country for two years after completing their studies. Bush vetoed the bill and issued an executive order--which expires at the end of 1993--that contained most of the provisions in the bill.
In interviews with The Times, nearly two dozen graduate students at UCLA, Caltech and USC said Bush's support is critical not only for their safety and peace of mind but for the larger cause of freedom for 1.3 billion Chinese on the mainland.
"The President of the United States has a wonderful opportunity to tell the Chinese government that if it doesn't want to suffer a brain drain, it can change its ways," Jin said.
The Chinese Student Protection Act of 1992 (SB 1216), sponsored by Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), would affect more than 40,000 mainland Chinese students and scholars at American universities who have resided continuously in the United States since April 11, 1990. It would allow them to apply for permanent residency unless Bush or his successor certifies on July 1 that it is safe for them to return to China. Both houses have approved the bill.
A chemistry graduate school at UCLA, who declined to give his name, explained his predicament this way: "After living in the United States for several years, my thinking has changed. If you return to China and say nothing and remain silent, perhaps, the government will leave you alone. But if you have social conscience, how can you remain silent in the face of injustice? That's why I cannot go home until there is freedom in China."
He and his colleagues were quick to note that pro-democracy leader Shen Tong, 24, who returned to China from Boston University after he was assured by the Chinese government that he was welcome, was arrested in August. "In China, the government is always right," the student said. "You are guilty until you prove yourself innocent."
"Despite promises and rumors of reform by the Chinese government, dissidents here in the United States understand the harsh reality that awaits them if they face forced deportation," Gorton said.