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.
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.
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.
Thai Parliament Opens Special Session Over Protest Tensions
Thailand’s Parliament began a special session Monday that was called to address tensions as pro-democracy protests draw students and other demonstrators into the streets almost daily demanding the prime minister's resignation.
As Speaker of the House Chuan Leekpai began the session, only 450 of the total of 731 members of both houses had signed in for the meeting.
The demonstrations by student-led groups in the Bangkok and other cities have three main demands: that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha step down, the constitution be amended to make it more democratic and reforms be made to the monarchy to make it more accountable.
Public criticism of the monarchy is unprecedented in a country where the royal institution has been considered sacrosanct, and royalists have denounced the protesters for raising the issue.
“The only way to a lasting solution for all sides that is fair for those on the streets as well as for the many millions who choose not to go on the streets is to discuss and resolve these differences through the parliamentary process,” Prayuth said last week.
The non-voting session of Parliament is expected to last two days.
The protesters have little confidence in the parliamentary path, declaring the government’s efforts insincere.
They noted the points of discussion submitted by Prayuth’s government for debate dealt not with the protesters' concerns but were thinly disguised criticisms of the protests themselves.
They concern instead the risk of the coronavirus spreading at rallies, the alleged interference with a royal motorcade by a small crowd earlier this month, and illegal gatherings and the destruction of images of the royal family.
The protesters allege Prayuth, who led a coup in 2014 as the army chief, was returned to power unfairly in last year’s election because laws had been changed to favor a pro-military party. The protesters also say the constitution, written and enacted under military rule, is undemocratic.
Parliament in September was scheduled to vote on six proposed constitutional amendments but instead set up a committee to further consider such proposals, and then recessed.
Constitutional changes require a joint vote of the House and the Senate, but the proposals lack support in the Senate, whose members are not elected and are generally very conservative and hostile to the protesters.
Instead of confronting lawmakers and counter-protesters on Monday, the pro-democracy protest organizers have called for an afternoon march to the German Embassy, apparently to bring attention to the time King Maha Vajiralongkorn spends in Germany.
Germany's foreign minister, questioned in Parliament by a member of the Green Party, recently expressed concern over any political activities the king might be conducting on the country's soil.
Protesters’ criticism of the royal institution has roiled conservative Thais. Self-proclaimed “defenders of the monarchy” mobilized last week online and in rallies in several cities, in many cases led by local civil servants.
A small group of royalist demonstrators were outside Parliament on Monday morning, saying they were there to let lawmakers know of their opposition to any changes in the status of the monarchy.
Typhoon Displaces Thousands, Floods Villages in Philippines
A fast-moving typhoon forced thousands of villagers to flee to safety in provinces south of the Philippine capital Monday, flooding rural villages and ripping off roofs, officials said.
There were no immediate reports of casualties from Typhoon Molave, but authorities reported at least one person was missing and seven others were rescued after their yacht sank off Batangas province south of Manila.
The typhoon has sustained winds of 125 kilometers (77 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 180 kph (112 miles) per hour and was blowing westward at 25 kph (15 mph). Molave is expected to start blowing out of the country into the South China Sea on Monday, government forecasters said.
At least 25,000 villagers were displaced with about 20,000 taking shelter in schools and government buildings which were turned into evacuation centers, according to the Office of Civil Defense.
“Villagers are now asking to be rescued because of the sudden wind which blew away roofs,” Humerlito Dolor, governor of Oriental Mindoro province, told DZMM radio.
Dolor said pounding rains overnight swamped farming villages in his province then fierce winds toppled trees and power posts early on Monday, knocking off power. Authorities were clearing roads of fallen trees and debris in some towns after the typhoon passed, he said.
More than 1,800 cargo truck drivers, workers and passengers were stranded in ports after the coast guard barred ships and ferry boats from venturing into rough seas.
About 20 typhoons and storms annually batter the Philippines, and the Southeast Asian archipelago is seismically active, with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, making it one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.
Australian Anguish at Passenger Strip Searches in Qatar
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports Australia has formally complained about what it is calling the "offensive and grossly inappropriate" treatment of passengers at Doha airport in Qatar. The report says thirteen Australian women were taken off a flight to Sydney after a newborn baby was found in an airport bathroom and the travelers were forced to have invasive internal examinations.
Airport authorities say when a premature baby was discovered in a bathroom at the Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, on October 2, all female passengers onboard a flight preparing to fly to Sydney were taken off the aircraft. The group included 13 Australian women.
They were taken to two ambulances waiting outside the airport and subjected to strip searches. Some of the women have told local media they were terrified and were not told why the examinations were being carried out.
The Australian Federal Police have been informed, although it is unclear what powers investigators might have over an incident that occurred in the Middle East.
Australian foreign minister Marise Payne says Australia has formally complained to Qatar.
“We also understand the matter has been reported to the Australian Federal Police. This is a grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events. It is not something I have ever heard of occurring in my life in any context. We have made our views very clear to the Qatari authorities on this matter,” Payne said.
Media reports have said the Australian women could take legal action against authorities in Qatar.
Australian Labor opposition leader Anthony Albanese says their treatment has been unbelievable.
“Reports of this treatment are really disturbing. The idea that women could be subject to these very intrusive searches is in my view an absolute disgrace," Albanese said.
In a statement, airport officials in Doha said the baby was “safe” and being cared for in Qatar.
They added that medical staff had expressed concern to them “about the health and welfare of a mother who had just given birth and requested she be located prior to departing.”
Australian authorities have said they are expecting a report on the incident from the Qatari Government later this week.
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