Deja Vu: Migrants Led Astray

The Obama administration has been vexed recently over a large influx of migrant children entering the country without authorization. With immigration, especially the illegal/alegal kind, already a polarizing topic, it unfairly makes the administration look helpless, and ineffectual.

Well, maybe the image is not so unfair after all, as this sad situation was arguably predictable, given a rather similar incident more than 20 years ago, as I’ll explain shortly.

Note first that in 2012, Obama announced a new policy that would allow certain unauthorized migrants to remain in the country for two years, providing they met certain conditions, one of which was that they already be in the country in 2012. Clearly the kids crossing the border illegally now don’t qualify, but apparently some unscrupulous “guides” convinced the kids or their parents that the children met the requirements.

Remarkably, something quite similar had occurred back in 1993. The Chinese Student Protection Act (CSPA), enacted in 1992 and implemented in 1993, in essence granted blanket political asylum to any Chinese national who had been in the U.S. between June 5, 1989 and April 11, 1990. The ostensible motivation for the legislation was to protect Chinese foreign students who were in the U.S. during “Beijing Spring,” the 1989 period of protest in China that ended in violent suppression by the People’s Liberation Army. Since there had been many sympathetic protests by Chinese students in the U.S. at the time, the claim was that Chinese nationals in the U.S. could not safely return to China. After the 1989 incident, the George H.W. Bush administration granted temporary residence to the foreign students, and the CSPA went much further, giving them all green cards (and anyone else from China lucky enough to have been here in the stated period).

The Act was implemented in 1993, at the start of the Clinton administration. As with the Latin American kids coming illegally to the U.S. today, “guides” in China spread rumors that the CSPA would cover people who came to the U.S. in 1993.  The “guides” got a number of people in southern China to pay them for illegal ocean passage to the U.S.  At least one of the ships landed in Monterey, CA, but the most well known case is that of the cargo ship Golden Venture, which ran aground near Queens, NY, on June 6, 1993.

The widely televised arrival of these ships, especially the Golden Venture, was so dramatic that it drew enormous attention to the problem of illegal immigration, and arguably contributed to the passage of California’s Proposition 187 in 1994, which would have denied education and other government services to unauthorized immigrants.  Though the measure was struck down in court, the next few years saw increasing calls in Congress to place various restrictions on immigration and immigrants.  A 1996 bill reducing yearly caps on legal immigration had bipartisan support and very nearly passed.

In other words, the CSPA helped set in motion a restrictionist national mood regarding immigration.  Whether one supports or opposes having tighter immigration policies, it is clear that immigration policy that is aimed very narrowly can have very broad consequences.

It is also clear that the old saying that “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it” seems to be hitting the Obama administration with a vengeance today.  In setting their nondeportation policy in 2012, they should have realized from the experience with the CSPA that their executive order might be deliberately misinterpreted later on, placing the administration in a highly uncomfortable position in the short run, and making it all the more difficult to achieve their long-term goal of enacting a more expansive immigration policy.

Furthermore, an important aspect of the CSPA to keep in mind is that it wasn’t needed. Contrary to the claim that the Chinese foreign students would be persecuted if they were to return home, they had been indeed returning home without incident, according to a U.S. State Department report. In fact, the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars, who mounted a large, masterful campaign to lobby Congress to pass the CSPA, held a fundraiser (lobbying is expensive!) consisting of selling the students cheap flights back to China, say for visits.

This is not to say that the Obama people were necessarily wrong in their 2012 action. But a look backward, in order to anticipate what might occur going forward, would have been useful.


6 thoughts on “Deja Vu: Migrants Led Astray

  1. Thank you for the reminder and background of the TPA for Chinese students in the US leading up to the military action in Tien An Men Square. But I don’t understand why you think the Obama administration didn’t anticipate the large number of unaccompanied alien children. I say this in view of the late January posting of an RFP bid request for chaperones to deliver the expected (exploding) number (65000) of unaccompanied alien children still viewable at .

    I suggest there are also relevant precedents for a different Administration reaction in Carter’s stopping the Mariel boatlift and in the case of the Clinton administration’s seizing Elian Gonzales to remove him from his father’s family in Florida and return him to his estranged father in Cuba, although of course every case has different circumstances.


  2. Of course any amnesty or amnesty-like program isn’t going to be set up for prospective illegal immigrants. That would be politically impossible. Never the less there’s no reason to expect that the logic that underlies such programs wouldn’t be extended to the subsequent illegal immigrant populations. What is there to distinguish between present and future populations that makes one deserving but the other not? The operating principle of illegal immigrant advocates is that, once safely inside the country, away from the border, illegal immigrants have some kind “right” to remain.

    Furthermore, no formal granting of immigration privileges to illegal immigrants is necessary for people to still want to be in the country. Choosing to remain in the country isn’t necessarily dependent upon the promise of future amnesty, although it does represent an additional incentive.

    What illegal immigrants experience in their present lives has much to do with their choice to remain. It’s easy, rewarding and relatively safe from consequences due to their legal status to be in the United States. Work is easily accessible despite the amnesty of 1986 that mislead our citizens that that would change. There a many services that illegal immigrants can access, both by way of the government or its proxies, or from other advocating groups. And as John Sandweg, the recent acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said, “If you are a run-of-the-mill immigrant here illegally, your odds of getting deported are close to zero — it’s just highly unlikely to happen.” I’ll note he also advocates for making yet fewer illegal immigrants subject to removal, as the Obama administration is reportedly considering doing. Given the opportunities available to illegal immigrants, I doubt if many would leave even if they never expected a formal grant of legal residence given that they can have quite a decent live here with illegal status.


  3. I’m not sure the average age, but I would send back those over 12. For those under 13 I would allow adoption by any citizen willing to become legal guardians and the consent of parents in Mexico. Maybe some people who believe “no human is illegal” would be willing to put their money where their mouth is and open their homes.

    It is shameful that Mexico is dumping their problems on us. What type of parent sends a child to a foreign nation without money, a guardian, or hope? Despite their shameful behavior it is only a symptom of the problem.

    I think the root problem is economic in nature. Mexico is corrupt, and our foreign policy is more concerned about what happens in other continents, not our own. We created a drug war because of a senseless drug policy. American politicians built the Mexican Cartel one law at a time. They learned nothing from the American Mafia that they also enabled.

    If you want to stop the flow of undocumented migrants, they need a reason to stay. They need hope. We have got to focus our foreign policy on North America first, followed by Central and South America. And only then the other continents. If we can’t take care of the problems in our own back yard, we shouldn’t be playing world police.


    • This issues extends well beyond Mexico. And in addition to the economic aspects, there are the political ones, which actually play an even greater role. The vested interests who lobby (in the broad sense) on immigration are strong and highly varied.


  4. Another of my current rants:

    A country which is $18 trillion in debt needs to prioritize its aid to the world’s needy. The Ebola epidemic could have been stopped some time ago for well under half a billion dollars. That’s about when the American establishment was obsessing about the great ‘humanitarian crisis’ on our Southern border, which is mainly middle class immigrants seeking better paying jobs and their children; the poor couldn’t begin to afford the coyotes’ fees. Obama wanted $3.7 billion as an opening payment to cope with it. We put up the immigrants and their gang escorts at HHS at $1000 / day, average 35 days.

    The American establishment pushes immigration to the max because corporations want that endless supply of cheap labor, so they marketed this invasion as a great humanitarian cause.

    Meanwhile, people including heroic health workers die from Ebola because African hospitals lack cheap basics like bleach and rubber gloves, and a real and very dangerous humanitarian crisis spins wildly out of control, but apparently the establishment hasn’t figured out a way to monetize Ebola yet.


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