A Fax on Both Your Houses

By Norman Matloff
Volume 7, Number 4 (Summer 1997)
Issue theme: "The abuse of asylum and refuge"

The irony is pathetic a piece of legislation whose origins stemmed from the lack of democracy in China turned out to itself typify the failure of the American democratic process.

The Chinese Student Protection Act (CSPA), passed in late 1992 and implemented in July 1993, became a catalog of the failings of Congress - its high susceptibility to intensive lobbying, its unabashed "scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" deal-making, and above all, its indifference toward the American people. It is difficult to ascribe good intentions to Congress, for example, after hearing some members state that this legislation should be kept out of the press because many in the American public would oppose this immigration bill if they knew about it.

Congress passed the CSPA after a highly sophisticated lobbying campaign led by the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars (IFCSS). The Act granted automatic immigrant status - green cards, objects treasured throughout Asia, the dream of any red-blooded foreign student in the U.S. - to an estimated 80,000 Chinese students and other Chinese nationals who had been in the United States during the student protests in Beijing in 1989. In effect, the students were given blanket political asylum, even though only a very small fraction of them would have qualified for asylum had they applied individually.

Norman Matloff is a professor of computer science at the University of California at Davis. A speaker of Chinese, he has written extensively on immigration issues as they pertain to Chinese communities in the United States. Guided by a prominent Washington law firm, the IFCSS conducted a powerfully organized lobbying effort. Using the Internet to coordinate their lobbying activities among Chinese students across the U.S.