The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has granted freedom to all remaining Chinese refugees incarcerated since their ship ran aground off Queens, New York, in June 1993. The 48 men and women released in February and March had fled China's harsh population-control policy, which includes forced abortion and sterilization for women who have more than one child.

A total of 134 other refugees aboard the rusted immigrant-smuggling Golden Venture had earlier been deported back to China, where they are in forced labor. Forty-two others had already been granted asylum in the United States or in South America.

The Chinese nationals endured a perilous, circuitous, four-month trip, only to be arrested upon arrival in New York. For three years and eight months, the 48 languished in U.S. jails due to complex immigration and political maneuvering (CT, March 4, 1996, p. 70).

The refugees released recently are on humanitarian parole. None have been granted asylum based upon forced abortion/sterilization, according to Tim Palmquist, spokesperson for Voice for Life, a pro-life organization that worked for their release.

"Their cases are still going to be dealt with by immigration court, so they could still be deported," Palmquist says. "But in the meantime they don't have to be in jail."

Their permanent freedom is likely because of a law signed last October by President Clinton granting asylum to victims of forced abortion and sterilization.

Yet Clinton did not issue an executive order releasing the refugees until February 14, soon after he met with Rep. William Goodling (R-Pa.). Thirty-eight of the refugees had been jailed in York, Pennsylvania.

Since 1993, several Christian and pro-life groups had waged a phone and fax campaign, inundating the White House with pleas to release the refugees.

Many of the refugees are living with family members. Various York churches, under the umbrella organization People of the Golden Venture, are helping in resettlement.

"The organization met for a prayer vigil each Sunday night for 183 weeks across the street from the prison," says Karen Miller, general secretary for the Church of the Brethren. "They are willing to take full responsibility for these resettled refugees."

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