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Experts Weigh Impact of US Immigration Ban on Chinese Communists

FILE - Soldiers of People's Liberation Army march in formation with a Chinese Communist Party flag during a rehearsal before a military parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of People's Republic of China, in Beijing, China, Oct. 1, 2019.
FILE - Soldiers of People's Liberation Army march in formation with a Chinese Communist Party flag during a rehearsal before a military parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of People's Republic of China, in Beijing, China, Oct. 1, 2019.

The United States has imposed a broad immigration ban on members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), blocking them from becoming U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Experts said the move further raised tensions between the two countries but might not have as severe an impact as previous measures.

U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a policy alert last Friday that said: “Unless otherwise exempt, any immigrant who is or has been a member of or affiliated with the Communist or any other totalitarian party, domestic or foreign, is inadmissible to the United States.”

The move came as top Trump administration officials ramp up criticism of the CCP for its role in covering up the coronavirus outbreak.

During a meeting with top diplomats from Japan, Australia and India this week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the pandemic crisis “was made infinitely worse by the Chinese Communist Party’s cover-up.”

The New York Times reported in July that the Trump administration was then considering a sweeping travel ban on the 92 million members of the CCP.

'Ongoing deterioration'

Neil Thomas, a senior researcher at the Paulson Institute, a nonpartisan institution that studies the U.S.-China relationship, said he thought the new policy was unlikely to have much impact on the CCP’s effort to influence public opinion in the U.S.

“This is part of ongoing deterioration in U.S.-China relations but is unlikely to significantly affect Beijing’s efforts to influence policy in the United States, which mostly do not require a green card or a U.S. passport, such as traditional diplomacy, economic coercion and online propaganda,” he told VOA.

Some experts viewed the new immigration policy as part of the Trump administration’s strategy to distinguish the CCP from ordinary Chinese citizens. But the Times said the U.S. government has no knowledge of the CCP membership..

USCIS said the policy amendment was “part of a broader set of laws passed by Congress to address threats to the safety and security of the United States.”

Bernard Wolfsdorf, a veteran immigration lawyer at the California-based Wolfsdorf Rosenthal law firm and former chairman of American Immigration Lawyers Association, told VOA the policy alert was based on provisions added in the 1950s to the Immigration and Nationality Act, when communism was perceived as a very direct threat to the United States.

Strict enforcement

Zhou Dongfa, an immigration lawyer in Minnesota, told VOA that the new guidelines did not reflect a change in U.S. immigration laws, but required immigration officers to strictly enforce the law when handling applications concerning CCP membership.

“You look at the law itself — it hasn’t changed. If you are a Communist Party member, you have to declare it on Form 485, which is the application for green card status in the U.S.,” he told VOA. “This policy alert provides a step-by-step overview of the inadmissibility determination.”

Wolfsdorf told VOA that in the past, unless the individual held a relatively high post in the Communist Party or a sensitive post in the military, most of these cases did not result in inadmissibility findings.

Yet he said that he was seeing some changes already.

“More recently, we are hearing anecdotal reports of an increased number of denials based on membership of the CCP,” Wolfsdorf told VOA.

He said it was too early to predict the results of the new enforcement measures because the policy alert just came out last week.

'Not a threat'

USCIS guidance includes an exemption for involuntary membership, such as for people who become members under age 16 or those who join the party to obtain employment, food rations or other living necessities.

An exception also extends to people who terminated their membership or affiliation at least five years before their immigration application date.

In both cases, the consular officer must deem the applicant “not a threat” to U.S. security.

"To an experienced officer, they know who is likely to be a Communist Party member, and they are capable of doing an adequate inquiry to see whether their membership is meaningful,” said Wolfsdorf.

According to the party’s official website, the Chinese Communist Party, founded in 1921, had nearly 92 million members at the end of 2019, making it the world’s second-largest political party behind India’s Bharatiya Janata Party. It added 1.3 million members last year alone.