President Biden on Thursday signed a memo shielding residents of Hong Kong living in the U.S. from deportation for at least 18 months, citing the “significant erosion” of freedoms in the territory by the Chinese communist regime.
“The United States supports the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the residents of Hong Kong,” Biden said in a memorandum. “Recognizing the significant erosion of those rights and freedoms in Hong Kong by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), I am directing the deferral of removal of certain Hong Kong residents who are present in the United States.”
The Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) allows a president to defer deportation for certain nationalities, although it is not itself a specific immigration status. Previous examples of DED use include former President Donald Trump deferring removal for Venezuelans in January and then-President George W. Bush’s deferring the removal of Liberians in 2007, which is still in effect.
Hong Kong, a former British territory that was handed over to the Chinese in the 1990s and initially governed on the principle of “one country, two systems,” has been subject to a dramatic crackdown on freedoms since the passage of a national security law by the Chinese government last year.
Biden’s memo said the imposition of that law has “undermined the enjoyment of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong, including those protected under the Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”
The statement noted the imprisonment of hundreds of anti-regime politicians and activists, as well as the arrest of thousands of more involved in anti-government protests – in addition to cracking down on democratic processes and academic and press freedom.
“Offering safe haven for Hong Kong residents who have been deprived of their guaranteed freedoms in Hong Kong furthers United States interests in the region. The United States will not waiver in our support of people in Hong Kong,” he said.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement that those protected under the memo would also be eligible for work authorization.
“This decision to offer safety and protection to these individuals was made based on the ongoing assault on democracy, and rights and freedoms in Hong Kong by the People’s Republic of China (PRC),” Mayorkas said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared that “in the face of PRC and Hong Kong authorities’ attempts to stifle democratic aspirations, we will take action.”
“We will continue to stand up for the human rights and freedoms guaranteed to people in Hong Kong by the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law,” he said in a statement. “Today we send a clear message that the United States resolutely stands with people in Hong Kong.”
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who has introduced legislation to grant asylum to Hong Kongers, said the move was a “solid step” but said more needs to be done.
“We need to offer full asylum to Hong Kongers who flee Chairman Xi’s brutal oppression,” he said in a statement. “America needs to stand firmly behind victims of communism and show the world that we will always stand for freedom across the globe.”
However, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which calls for lower levels of immigration in the U.S., opposed the move.
“If everyone who dissents from CCP control or authoritarian rule winds up in the United States, it makes it easier for any party in power or American enemy to ultimately prevail,” RJ Hauman, FAIR’s head of government relations said in a statement. “This applies to Hong Kong, Afghanistan etc. The fact is this: well-intentioned, but misguided immigration policies actually defeat our foreign policy objectives.”
The move is the latest protection from removal from the Biden administration. In May, the administration granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian immigrants for 18 months amid ongoing security concerns, poverty and human rights abuses in the country.