U.S. to Comply With Its Own Refugee Law?

You’ve previously seen me mention the extreme displeasure of some activists in Washington and elsewhere that U.S. embassies are turning away North Korean refugees, most likely due to political “sensitivities” regarding the governments of South or North Korea, or China. I have blogged that letting these refugees in is a specific statutory requirement under the North Korean Human Rights Act, section 303, now codified at 22 U.S.C. sec. 7843. It also flirts with violating the U.N. Refugee Convention, something I’ve long accused both China and South Korea of violating as well.

Needless to say, our own government’s failure in this same regard has angered the groups that helped pass the NKHRA in the first place, and I continue to pick up reliable reports that some of the more influential activists are considering a suit in federal court to enforce the law. None of this is to say that the United States lacks the right, if exercised in good faith, to carefully screen North Korean refugees for regime agents or impostors. But that is vastly different from a noncompliance with the law that the State Department can’t explain. Today, there are signs that the State Department may be listening to its lawyers:

The U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights, Jay Lefkowitz, has reportedly hinted that the U.S. could depart from practice and accept North Korean defectors who want to come to the U.S. starting this year.

Lefkowitz dropped the hint in a meeting with Chun Young-woo, a Foreign Ministry official who visited the U.S. last week, according to a government official.

And when have the South Koreans, over the last year, failed to charge the United States with hypocrisy regarding North Korean refugees, given that the charge now sticks? As if on cue . . . .

Lefkowitz’s remarks came in response to Seoul’s argument that the U.S. is only paying lip service to North Korean human rights issues and doing almost nothing to protect North Korean defectors, the official added.

. . . .

The official stressed that the U.S. has made no commitment to grant asylum to North Koreans, merely that it will review the measures.

Yes, grants of asylum are made on a case-by-case basis, given the staggering amount of fraud by people trying to use the tool of last resort to get into the Land of the Great PX. Lefkowitz, whose office has been on the receiving end of much of the activists’ pressure, may also be covering himself with those above his pay grade, who have the authority he lacks to make that decision. He could also be jerking our chains.

The U.S. has admitted a grand total of nine North Korean exiles since 1997, none of them since the implementation of the North Korean Human Rights Act , which recognizes the refugee status of North Korean defectors and was passed in 2004.

I wish I could tell you even more about how some of us have raised this issue privately, but I’ll have to stop there. On the other hand, I wouldn’t advise anyone that this is the time to relax the pressure.