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Countries of particular cruelty

Politics | Annual report calls for U.S. sanctions against China for religious persecution
by Harvest Prude
Posted 5/02/19, 06:15 pm

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its annual report this week and called on Congress and the Trump administration to increase sanctions against countries with rampant religious persecution, especially China.

At a news conference on Capitol Hill Monday, the commissioners zeroed in on China, a designated Tier 1 country of particular concern (CPC). The State Department recommends sanctions against Tier 1 CPCs due to “systemic, ongoing, egregious violations” of religious liberty.

“If we were to rate the Tier 1 countries, China would be in a category all by itself,” USCIRF Commissioner Gary Bauer told reporters. “They are an equal opportunity persecutor. They go after anybody, any sect that might compete with the communist, atheistic government of China.”

The report notes that Uighur Muslims in the country are “constantly surveilled, their phones confiscated and scanned, their skin pricked for blood samples to collect their DNA, their children prohibited from attending mosque. Even worse, the Chinese government has ripped entire families apart, detaining between 800,000 and 2 million adults in concentration camps and relegating some of their children to orphanages.”

China is also waging an ongoing crackdown on Christians, including house churches and Protestant congregations such as Early Rain Covenant Church, which had more than 100 of its members and leaders arrested in December.

Bauer, the president of public policy think tank American Values, told me that China’s enormous global influence adds to the concern.

“When you look at some of the other countries, it’s very bad—but they’re not countries whose long arm is reaching into countries all over the world,” he said. “The trade issue is obviously a huge issue, and it affects many jobs, and many people in the United States have a stake in either the cheap labor in China or access to cheap products. But this commission has been mandated to only focus on religious liberty—so we’re going to continue to urge that our government and this administration keep religious liberty and religious persecution as a central part of any negotiations.”

Several members of Congress have also echoed calls for additional sanctions on China for human rights violations. In August 2018, a bipartisan group of 17 lawmakers wrote a letter urging the White House to apply sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the United States to impose economic consequences for human rights violations overseas.

“The Chinese government’s renewed war on religion should be a particular concern for the international community, as their efforts will be copied by other authoritarian leaders,” Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., a co-signer of the letter, told me. “Chinese officials should be held accountable for the arbitrary detentions of [pastor] Wang Yi and the Early Rain Church leaders and the internment of over a million Uighurs and other Muslims—a clear crime against humanity.”

The commission’s report also calls on the Trump administration to lift a decadeslong waiver for Saudi Arabia that allows the country to escape sanctions for human rights violations despite its CPC designation. The State Department has given the country a waiver since 2006, in part due to its long-standing economic alliance with the United States. But the pressure to end the waiver increased after the brutal killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018. Just last week, Saudi officials beheaded 37 Saudi nationals, the majority of whom were Shiite Muslims, in a mass execution. Shiites make up about 15 percent of the Saudi population.

In April, Congress passed a measure to end U.S. support for Saudi involvement in the Yemen civil war. President Donald Trump vetoed the measure, and the Senate failed to get a two-thirds majority to override that veto in a vote Thursday afternoon.

In addition to recommending sanctions, the USCIRF report also recommends that the Trump administration appoint a special adviser on international religious freedom to the National Security Council. The adviser would report directly to national security adviser John Bolton.

In light of recent attacks on New Zealand mosques and the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, the report also recommends the State Department allocate more resources globally to “protect the places of worship and other holy sites of religious minorities communities.”

Associated Press/Photo by Eric Gay Associated Press/Photo by Eric Gay Migrants seeking asylum in the United States receive breakfast from a group of volunteers in Matamoros, Mexico, on Tuesday.

Asylum fee debated

President Donald Trump this week ordered immigration authorities to charge a fee for asylum applications along with other changes to curb alleged abuse of the asylum process at the U.S.-Mexico border.

A White House memorandum on Monday called for the attorney general and secretary of homeland security to propose regulations within 90 days to speed the processing time of asylum applications to 180 days or fewer, charge asylum fees “not to exceed the costs of adjudicating the application,” and to limit employment authorizations for asylum-seekers who entered the country illegally.

The memo claims human traffickers are “encouraging abuse of our asylum procedures.”

“This strategic exploitation of our nation’s humanitarian programs undermines our nation’s security and sovereignty,” the president stated in the memo. The White House pointed to figures showing that only 12 out of every 100 immigrants who claim fear of persecution are actually granted asylum.

Groups that work with asylum-seekers said charging them a fee would place an undue burden on vulnerable people who have fled their home countries, often with few financial resources.

“Introducing a fee to apply for asylum and to apply for the first work permit not only is cruel but also goes against common sense and U.S. economic interests,” immigration lawyers Lindsay Harris and Joan Hodges-Wu wrote in The Washington Post.

Of the nearly 150 nations that are party to an international treaty on refugees, only a few charge fees to process asylum claims, though some, such as Australia and Canada, charge a fee to process the relevant visas, according to information compiled by the Library of Congress.

Trump has undertaken other efforts to handle the flood of asylum-seekers at the southern border, including requiring them to wait in Mexico while their claims are processed. Like those efforts, the newest proposals are likely to face court challenges. —Anne K. Walters

Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite The U.S. Capitol

This week in Congress

In the House of Representatives:

  • On Tuesday, Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., filed a privileged resolution to force a floor vote that would refer Michael Cohen to the Department of Justice for a perjury investigation. Republicans have accused President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer of lying under oath in his Feb. 27 testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
  • On Wednesday, the House observed a moment of silence for the passing of former Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., who died Monday of pneumonia complications. She was 67.
  • The House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday referred Erik Prince, an informal adviser to the president, to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation. Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Prince may have lied to Congress about a meeting he had with an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • On Thursday, the Democratic-controlled House passed the Climate Action Now Act, a bill that would reinstate the United States as a party to the Paris agreement on climate change. President Trump withdrew the United States from the pact in June 2017. The act also requires the White House annually develop a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The bill is unlikely to receive support from the White House or the Republican majority in the Senate.

In the Senate:

  • The Senate confirmed William Cooper on Tuesday as general counsel to the Department of Energy. It also confirmed R. Clarke Cooper as assistant secretary of state, J. Campbell Barker as a U.S. District judge for the Eastern District of Texas, and Andrew Lynn Brasher as a U.S. District judge for the Middle District of Alabama.
  • On Thursday, the Senate, in a 53-45 vote, failed to override President Trump’s veto on removing the United States from involvement in the Yemen civil war. A two-thirds majority, or 67 votes, was needed to override the veto.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced that his office is working on a “Tobacco 21” bill that would bump the legal age nationwide to buy cigarettes from 18 to 21. He is planning to introduce the bill sometime next month. —H.P.
Associated Press/Photo by Evan Vucci Associated Press/Photo by Evan Vucci Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (left) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer leave the White House Tuesday after a meeting on infrastructure with President Donald Trump.

Building bridges

Democratic leaders and President Donald Trump agreed this week to a bipartisan infrastructure plan to improve U.S. roads, bridges, and power systems.

After Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., met with the president Tuesday at the White House, Schumer announced a consensus on setting aside $2 trillion for the project. “Originally we had started a little lower. Even the president was eager to push it up to $2 trillion,” Schumer told reporters.

During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to pursue a $1 trillion infrastructure improvement plan, but little progress has been made so far. The 90-minute meeting with Democratic leaders may signal movement on one of the few topics that can win bipartisan support in Congress.

Schumer and Pelosi said an infrastructure package should go beyond repairing roads and bridges. They want it to include provisions to enhance broadband internet service, water systems, energy resources, schools, and housing.

“I think it is a big step that both sides that have, frankly, had a lot of hostility toward one another over the last couple months are sitting down at the table and discussing an issue that has to be addressed,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

Democrats and Republicans still must agree on how to pay for the project. Some labor unions and business groups support increasing the 18 cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax. But presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway dismissed that idea, telling reporters, “Trump is the guy who lowers taxes.”

The president will meet again with Democrats in three weeks to reveal his plan to pay for the project. —H.P

Associated Press/Photos by Charlie Neibergall Associated Press/Photos by Charlie Neibergall Joe Biden waves to supporters after speaking at a campaign rally in Iowa City, Iowa, on Wednesday.

2020 forecast

Joe Biden is off to a strong fundraising start after announcing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. His campaign said Friday that he raised $6.3 million during the first 24 hours after his announcement April 25. So far, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont have held the most impressive first-day fundraising totals among Democrats. O’Rourke raised $6.1 million, edging out Sanders’ total of $5.9 million.

The jam-packed Democratic field gained another contender on Thursday, with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado announcing his candidacy. Bennet represents a more moderate wing of the party, opposing single-payer healthcare and packing the U.S. Supreme Court with additional liberal justices. “I’m not going to pretend free college is the answer,” he said in his video announcement. “I’m not gonna say there’s a simple solution to a problem if I don't believe there is one.” Bennet originally planned to announce his bid for the White House last month, but waited until he could be treated for prostate cancer.

Meanwhile, former Sen. Mike Gravel, D-Alaska, said Monday he is now “running to win.” The soon-to-be 89-year-old announced his candidacy at the beginning of April but indicated he did not expect to win the nomination, saying he only wanted to make the debate stage and push the other Democratic candidates farther to the left. Gravel’s platform is anti-war, anti–Electoral College, pro-single-payer healthcare, and a number of other liberal positions. He served in the Senate from 1969 to 1981.

So far, 17 of the 22 announced Democratic hopefuls have qualified for the party’s first presidential debate in June. To qualify, candidates must receive donations from 65,000 people or receive at least 1 percent support in three polls conducted by organizations on a preset list. —H.P.

Harvest Prude

Harvest is a reporter for WORLD based in Washington, D.C.

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