December 16, 2020

Menendez Delivers Remarks at Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing on Supporting Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Movement Through U.S. Refugee Policy

“Offering a safe haven through the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act to the people of Hong Kong who have tirelessly fought against tyranny is crucial to demonstrate unequivocally that the United States will not abandon those standing up for human rights.”

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening statement on the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act at this afternoon’s Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration hearing entitled “Supporting Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Movement Through U.S. Refugee Policy.”

“It is critical that Congress makes clear to the people of Hong Kong that we stand with them, and to make clear to China’s leaders that there are consequences for their decision to impose its security law on Hong Kong, to violate their international agreements, and for their decision to end Hong Kong’s long-cherished autonomy,” Senator Menendez said, speaking as a panelist before the Subcommittee. “We cannot and must not be silent in the face of flagrant attacks on the freedoms that we all cherish and deserve – and we certainly can’t slam the door in the face of Hong Kongers seeking refuge.”

Introduced by Ranking Member Menendez and Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), in addition to Senators Todd Young (R-Ind.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act would provide Hong Kongers who peacefully protested Beijing’s corrupt justice system and have a well-founded fear of persecution with eligibility for Priority 2 Refugee status. The bipartisan legislation also serves as a response to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) actions to implement its Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Many Hong Kongers are already currently living outside of the territory for fear of arrest and repression following their participation in last year’s pro-democracy protests.

“It is no small moment of history that two Cuban Americans are before this Committee urging you to do something for the people of Hong Kong,” Senator Menendez added. “Offering a safe haven through the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act to the people of Hong Kong who have tirelessly fought against tyranny is crucial to demonstrate unequivocally that the United States will not abandon those standing up for human rights.”

Find a copy of the legislation HERE.

Below are Senator Menendez’s full remarks as delivered.

“Thank you Chairman Cornyn and Ranking Member Durbin for calling this hearing. It shows the world that even in the midst of a pandemic and significant budgetary issues that we face that we still pay attention to what is happening in the world, that we can still be a beacon of light to those who pursue democracy and human rights.

I want to thank you for doing that in the midst of everything we are going through here. We also want to thank you for your co-sponsorship. It is significant in our efforts.

I appreciate the invitation to speak to the Judiciary Committee on the legislation that my dear friend and colleague from Florida and I have introduced regarding the crisis in Hong Kong – prompted by Beijing’s unilateral adoption of national security legislation this past summer – and the urgent need for the United States to provide refugee status for Hong Kongers who have been persecuted for simply wanting their freedom.

As a Cuban-American, this issue is one that is close to my heart, as I well understand what it means to have friends and family whose hopes and aspirations for freedom are crushed by a communist dictatorship – and the importance of the United States as a safe haven to those fearing persecution. 

It is no small moment of history that two Cuban Americans are before this Committee urging you to do something for the people of Hong Kong.

It is critical that Congress makes clear to the people of Hong Kong that we stand with them, and to make clear to China’s leaders that there are consequences for their decision to impose its security law on Hong Kong, to violate their international agreements, and for their decision to end Hong Kong’s long-cherished autonomy.

Years ago, China made a promise to the international community and to the people of Hong Kong that they would enjoy certain freedoms –of speech and assembly, a free press, an independent judiciary, and could freely elect their own leaders – guarantees that have ensured Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity.

China has now reneged on its promises: It is undertaking a comprehensive assault on the city’s autonomy, rule of law, and fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Basic Law and the Sino-British Declaration.

Beijing now seems set on its decision to bring to an end ‘one country, two systems,’ and with it is undertaking a concerted assault on Hong Kong’s democratic activists, human rights activists, journalists and other everyday Hong Kong citizens on trumped-up charges of sedition and national security violations.

Given these new realities, it is critical for the United States to stand with the people of Hong Kong.

We must stand up and make it clear that we are willing – and committed – to helping Hong Kongers preserve their society at home if they can, and to providing refuge for those who face persecution for exercising their rights guaranteed under the Joint Declaration.

We must make clear to the Chinese Communist Party that we stand resolutely with Hong Kong and its residents, and we will ensure they don’t fall through the cracks of our broken immigration system if they are forced to flee for standing up for their fundamental human rights.

Offering a safe haven through the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act to the people of Hong Kong who have tirelessly fought against tyranny is crucial to demonstrate unequivocally that the United States will not abandon those standing up for human rights.

We cannot and must not be silent in the face of flagrant attacks on the freedoms that we all cherish and deserve – and we certainly can’t slam the door in the face of Hong Kongers seeking refuge. Now, I know that many of my colleagues are concerned that if we provide Hong Kongers eligibility for Priority 2 Refugee status we may also need to provide similar status for others facing political or humanitarian crises elsewhere in the world – starting with our own hemisphere.

For decades, America led the world in humanitarian policies by creating a sanctuary for the oppressed and admitting more refugees annually than all other countries combined. But it is no secret that for the past four years under the Trump administration, issues relating to refugees and to immigration have been politically charged, and that the cap on the number of refugees allowed into the United States has been has lowered by some 80 percent, dropping to a record low of 15,000 for 2021. America is currently shutting out the most vulnerable. To me, that is disgraceful.

But we must not forget that our Founders had a vision of our nation as a beacon of hope for the oppressed around the world. They enunciated that vision not just because it was right, but because they recognized that, in doing so, we made our own nation stronger.

I hope my colleagues recognize that our American values demand we take action when people’s lives are in danger and that is what truly makes America great.

Putting that larger debate aside, I also believe that while we cannot provide assistance to everyone everywhere, that does not mean we should not provide it to anyone, anywhere. We must seek to meet our moral obligation to the people of Hong Kong, and this bill is in keeping with that vision.

So I urge this committee to report out the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act, and to make clear to the people of Hong Kong that we stand with them – that we are all Hong Kongers – and that the costs for China’s actions in Hong Kong will be high.

China is opportunistic, always pressing for openings to advance its agenda. And while China’s authoritarianism and repression has mounted – against its own people, in Hong Kong, in Xinjiang, in Tibet – the United States has all too often signaled to China’s leaders that they could act with impunity. That is precisely the wrong signal to send, and the wrong approach for our nation to take with regards to Hong Kong. Our approach must be tough-minded, undergirded by the bipartisan commitment to Hong Kong’s autonomy and to the people which has prevailed for decades.

We need a broad new bipartisan strategy on China that will serve us for decades to come. On that, I hope we can work together in the next Congress. But time does not stand still: We have an opportunity to act in the urgent short term and take a decisive step that does right by the people of Hong Kong, even as we push our broader efforts to counter China’s drive toward a more closed and illiberal future.

I think this is incredibly important, not just for the people of Hong Kong, Mr. Chairman, but also for our continuing challenge to confront and to compete with China. It is a relatively small step, but it is a powerful message, not just to the people of Hong Kong, but beyond.

Thank you so much for this opportunity for your courtesy.”

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