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Oppressive measures such as the “one-child” policy — and Beijing’s refusal to take back most people who are deported from the U.S. — have left the U.S. with more asylum seekers from China than any other nation.

Expand chart
Data: Department of Homeland Security. Affirmative asylum includes people who apply right away, defensive asylum includes people who were already in deportation proceedings. Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Why it matters: This has long been a point of tension between the two world powers. Beijing blames the U.S. for enticing Chinese nationals to leave by granting them asylum, but the U.S. blames China for what it perceives to be oppressive policies and for making it difficult to deport people back to China.

By the numbers:

  • 80% of Chinese defensive asylum claims — those made while already in deportation proceedings — were approved between 2012 and 2017, compared to 21% for Salvadorans and 12% for Mexicans, according to data collected from immigration courts by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
  • And affirmative asylum, which can be claimed by an immigrant as soon as they arrive in the U.S., is generally easier to win.
  • China is a big country, but India — which is almost as populous and sends as many immigrants to the U.S. — has far fewer who claim asylum.

What drives Chinese nationals to the U.S., and leads to their high asylum approval rates:

  1. The “one-child” policy, which went into effect in 1980 and spurred widespread infanticide and forced abortions, was a compelling argument for claiming asylum. The recent decline in asylum seekers coincides with the relaxation of the policy starting in 2013. The policy officially ended in 2016.
  2. Political dissidents came to the U.S. from China in huge numbers after the Tianamen Square protests in 1989. The nearly 80,000 Chinese nationals who claimed political asylum in the months following the protests were almost all granted legal status, according to Yun Sun, who runs the China program at the Stimson Center.
  3. Religious dissidents include Chinese nationals who practice Islam and Christianity — as well as those who practice Falun Gong, a pseudo-Buddhist faith, Sun says.

Even if asylum is denied, many Chinese immigrants find themselves stuck in the U.S. with deportation orders as Beijing often refuses to allow their return, Doris Meissner, a former Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner and senior fellow at Migration Policy Institute, tells Axios.

In 2017, just 525 Chinese nationals were successfully deported —up from 398 the year before. Meissner says that under the Trump administration, “DHS and ICE are under strong pressure to increase the pressure on these countries, including China, and get higher numbers of returns.”

The bottom line: There are sweeping actions the U.S. can take against countries that don't readily accept deportees — such as Cuba, Iran, Morocco and Vietnam — like refusing to issue visas to their citizens. But in China’s case, this strategy doesn’t make practical or political sense, Meissner says. China is a key economic partner, and it’s just too big.

Go deeper: Trump inherited a surge of Central Americans seeking asylum

Go deeper

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker will not seek re-election in 2022

Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) speaking during a press conference in November 2021. Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), a moderate who typically ranks as one of the nation's most popular governors, said Wednesday that he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito (R) will not seek third terms in 2022.

Why it matters: The decision leaves the gubernatorial race wide open and will likely affect multiple down-ballot races next year. Baker was expected to be the front-runner had he joined the race.

3 hours ago - Health

CDC prepares tougher testing rules for international travelers

Travelers with their luggage arrive at a COVID-19 testing location at the airport in Los Angeles, Calif., on Nov. 23, 2021. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday night that it is working to impose stricter testing requirements for international travelers due to the spread of the new Omicron variant.

The big picture: The new rules would require all international travelers, regardless of vaccination status, to show a negative test taken a day before their flight to the U.S. Currently, the CDC says fully vaccinated travelers are allowed to show a test taken no more than three days before their departure, AP reports.

Republicans threaten to shut down government over vaccine mandates

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the Capitol in November 2020. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Conservative Republicans in the House and Senate are planning to force a government shutdown Friday to deny funding needed to enforce the Biden administration's vaccine mandates on the private sector, according to Politico.

Why it matters: Congress has until the end of the week to pass a stopgap measure to extend funding into 2022, though objection from a small group of Republicans could shut down the government.