Showdown as US state tries to deport asylum seekers
IMMIGRATION officials in San Francisco are set for a clash with the courts by deporting more than 100 asylum seekers to China, despite a landmark injunction granted in the Golden Venture case.
A Pennsylvania judge late last week granted the injunction to put on hold the threatened deportation of the 285 survivors from the ill-fated smuggling ship, which ran aground off New York in June, killing 10.
The injunction was granted in response to a lawsuit against the US authorities by lawyers representing Golden Venture passengers. It seeks to overturn the White House's hardline policy which allows deportation of aliens claiming to flee China's forced family planning regime.
Lawyers claim that if the lawsuit is successful, it represents a class action protecting not just Golden Venture passengers, but every one of the thousands of illegal immigrants from China claiming fear of persecution under the one-child family rule.
San Francisco officials, however, faced with a backlog of Fujianese detainees from their own smuggling boat cases this summer, have vowed to proceed with deportations, arguing that the injunction covers only Golden Venture illegals.
''The judge's ruling will not have an impact on our activities in the Western region,'' an Immigration and Naturalisation Service spokesman said.
Three men who arrived on a smuggling boat in June are already back in China after being sent home from San Francisco last Tuesday - the day before the Pennsylvania decision. They are believed to be the first to be sent home from any of the smuggling boats that made it to US soil.
INS district director David Illchert said the three men had been sent back secretly because publicity might have provoked demonstrations amongst the detainees.
Four other men have been issued travel documents to China and are awaiting immediate deportation from a San Francisco jail.
Out of the 750 Chinese who arrived on the West Coast on four boats this year, at least another 100 have been through the full asylum claim process, had their appeals denied and been issued with final deportation orders.
Lawyers trying to prevent the deportations said they would seek to have the Pennsylvania injunction extended to include the West Coast aliens, many of whom have also claimed fear of the one-child family policy.
Meanwhile, the Golden Venture passengers face several more months in US detention before a full hearing on the class action petition.
''The injunction order is a significant first step for the refugees,'' said David Weinstein, one of the immigrants' lawyers. ''If INS were to deport them while the action is pending, the court would lose the power to uphold their right to have their asylum claims fairly heard and considered.'' In a separate lawsuit, lawyers for the Golden Venture claimants allege that the White House put undue pressure on immigration judges to deny their claims and have them deported.