Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Holden says red tape hampered attempts to help illegal Chinese alien (Reading Eagle)

The congressman says Zhenliang Weng was deported before the Chinese dissident could fill out paperwork allowing the legislator to help.

By Holly Herman
Reading Eagle

Last Update: 6/4/2008 11:03:00 PM

A congressman who offered to help Chinese dissident Zhenliang Weng obtain political asylum was hampered by red tape as the illegal alien was deported by immigration agents.

Rep. Tim Holden said Wednesday that he could not help Weng, who was picked up Monday morning at Berks County Prison, because the lawmaker couldn’t get access to information on Weng’s case.

That’s because Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, requires lawmakers to get written consent from the individual in question before releasing information on the case.

Weng was unable to provide Holden with his written consent before ICE proceeded with the deportation.

Officials confirmed Wednesday that Weng is in China, where he feared he would be jailed on his arrival for writing anti-government messages on the Internet.

Holden, a Schuylkill County Democrat who represents portions of Berks, wrote Weng a letter offering assistance.
"It’s my pleasure to provide you with any possible assistance," Holden said. "However, I will need your written authorization to secure information on your behalf."

Holden mailed Weng a form to complete, but Weng did not get it back to Holden in time for Holden to try to help before Weng was deported.

Weng, who had been in the United States illegally for seven years, had an appeal pending before the Immigration Appeals Board when authorities deported him.

Weng claimed in the appeal that he would be tortured or killed upon his return to China because of the posted messages.

But, according to ICE procedures, a pending appeal does not automatically stop deportation.

In the meantime, a group of Reading-area clergy contacted Holden and Republican Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Jim Gerlach, a Chester County Republican, who also represents part of Berks.
Specter’s office said he was aware of the matter and is looking into it.

Douglas F. Didyoung Sr., a Lutheran lay teacher and associate chaplain at Reading Hospital, said he met Tuesday with the clergy group to discuss how to help Weng and others in similar situations.

"The pastors are interested and shocked it (Weng’s deportation) happened so quickly," Didyoung said. "What we can do at this point is limited.

"I had everything lined up to start working on this. This isn’t the first time this has happened. People here told me that the bureaucracy is unbelievable."

Didyoung, who adopted a Vietnamese child, said the immigration process takes a lot of time and is difficult.

"The problem is with the system," he said. "It’s not easy to understand."

According to court records:

Weng was denied political asylum April 14, 2005, and again July 10, 2006.

In February 2007, Weng began posting anti-China blog entries on the Internet protesting the government’s taking of his family’s farm in Fuzhou, a province in southeast China.

Weng’s lawyer, Frank R. Liu of New York said he was unaware of Weng’s anti-China activities until May when he filed the latest appeal. Liu said he was hopeful the appeal would be heard before Weng was deported.

Weng received a letter dated Feb. 28 from local officials stating they are aware of Weng’s political activities and that he faced prosecution if he was returned.

No comments: