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US Senate fails to pass Hong Kong refugee bill

Supporters will reintroduce bill to new Congress next January

Republican Ted Cruz blocks legislation granting Hongkongers temporary protection. (Taiwan News image)

Republican Ted Cruz blocks legislation granting Hongkongers temporary protection. (Taiwan News image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan) — In a final attempt before Congress enters recess for the upcoming holidays, U.S. lawmakers failed to advance a bill through the Senate on Friday (Dec. 18) that would grant Hong Kong activists special refugee status.

Blocked by Republican Senator Ted Cruz, the Hong Kong People's Freedom and Choice Act of 2020 aims to provide temporary protected status (TPS) and refugee status for qualified Hong Kong residents. The bill mandates Hong Kong should be treated as a TPS-designated country for at least 18 months, along with countries like Sudan and Yemen, where nationals might face immediate threat after being evicted from the U.S.

The bill will also establish Priority Hong Kong Resident status for Hongkongers who have lived in the semi-autonomous region for at least 10 years and were arrested, detained, or convicted for participating in the pro-democracy protests that erupted in 2019 and 2020.

Intending to skip the prolonged voting process, senators Dick Durbin and Richard Blumenthal hoped to pass the bill through "unanimous consent," so as to expedite proceedings.

The national security law implemented by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) persecuted protesters, journalists, and educators, said Durbin addressing the Senate, VOA reported. "This law has nothing to do with national security but fears."

But the motion from the Democrats was obstructed by Cruz, saying the bill carried with it the long-term aim of the Democratic Party to change immigration laws in the U.S. He said loosening immigration standards would facilitate Beijing infiltrating the country with spies.

He said oppressed Hongkongers do qualify as refugees under current regulations, especially after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he would reallocate refugee admission slots to Hong Kong residents within the cap. Trump's order was criticized by the human rights group as offering little help to Hong Kong people considering the restrictions set by his administration.

The Texas senator had previously introduced his SCRIPT Act, which currently has no cosponsors, to Congress. The act aims to cut government funding and technical assistance to any movie production if it agrees to alter content at the request of the Chinese authorities, in order to screen the film in China

Samuel Chu (朱牧民), director of Hong Kong Democracy Council, a Washington-based non-profit lobbying for Hong Kong's basic freedoms, shared his disappointment after the Hong Kong People's Freedom and Choice Act failed to advance in the Senate.

"Over 10,000 activists are facing protest-related, politically motivated charges. For every Joshua Wong, there are 100 more just like him sitting behind bars. Hongkongers need every protection and support the U.S. can provide right now and for the U.S. to lead the global coordinated campaign to provide activists safe harbor," Chu said in the statement.

Several lawmakers said they would reintroduce the bill to the legislature next January. "I hope the recess will allow us to be well-prepared and take swift actions within the first month after new Congress kicks off," Senator Marco Rubio told VOA.