June 8, 2005
Chinese Boy Asks for Stay of Deportation, Citing Fear
By RALPH BLUMENTHAL
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HOUSTON, June 7 - Young Zheng's first offense was flying into the United
States illegally as a 14-year-old boy with phony papers supplied by Chinese
human smugglers known as snakeheads.
But perhaps his biggest blunder, his lawyers say, was complying with
immigration rules after he was apprehended and released, rather than fleeing
and working to begin paying the $60,000 fee that his father in China had
agreed to with the smugglers. Instead, he went to school and became a top
He also had the misfortune, his lawyers say, of believing his Department of
Homeland Security control officers when they told him he could stop
reporting monthly and show up every three months instead. When he checked in
three months later, he was arrested and scheduled for deportation for
failing to appear earlier, they said.
Young, now 17 and confined in a youth facility here, is the center of a
heated court battle over government efforts to deport him as soon as Friday.
If he is returned to China, the youth and his lawyers say, he faces torture
and death for defying the smugglers. He also has no home, he says, because
his father, terrified of the smugglers, has disowned him.
Because he made a vain dash for freedom last March and smashed his head into
a wall to avoid deportation, his court papers say, the government is
preparing to sedate him to get him aboard the plane.
A Justice Department spokesman, Eric Holland, said he could not discuss any
aspect of the case, including how often Young had to report, because it was
in litigation. The government's legal briefs say that Young has already been
properly ruled eligible for deportation and that the finding should not be
The Department of Homeland Security, opposing Young's application for
amnesty under the United Nations Torture Convention and his request for a
stay of removal, has argued in part that Young failed to present convincing
proof that he would be tortured by the Chinese government.
"At best," said Jeffrey T. Bubier, a lawyer in the case and assistant chief
counsel of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement in
Philadelphia, "he fears a 'wholly private' act of retribution, meted out by
smugglers who want money."
Young's lawyers, John F. Sullivan III and Hannah Sibiski, who have taken on
the case pro bono for the firm of Fulbright & Jaworski, say there is little
distinction, arguing that the Chinese government and the police in the
family's native province, Fujian, are complicit in the smuggling. "Young's
father has even received a visit from the Chinese police seeking payment of
the $60,000 on behalf of the snakeheads," the lawyers wrote in a brief filed
on May 25 with the Board of Immigration Appeals.
"Every once in a long while, a case comes along that truly cries out for
justice in a crowded judicial system and tugs at the heartstrings of us
all," they said, adding: "This is such a case."
On Friday they unsuccessfully sought a stay of deportation for Young on
habeas corpus grounds in federal court in Houston. Because of the way the
case began after Young's arrival in New Jersey, it is before the United
States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia. The court
has said it would rule by Young's scheduled deportation date of Friday.
Reached through his lawyers by telephone on Tuesday at the Southwest Key
facility in Houston, a private contractor for the government's Office of
Refugee Resettlement and its Division of Unaccompanied Children's Services,
Young called the smugglers "very powerful," saying that "they sent people to
my family in China" and that they threatened the uncle he had been staying
with in Ohio. "My father and uncle told me not to come back," he said.
In an account that matched a sworn statement in his court case, Young said
his parents had been penalized for violating the one-child rule in China by
having him one year after his sister; a family could have a second child if
the first was a girl, but they had to wait four years. He said his mother
was killed in a car accident when he was about 8. His father remarried, and
Young said his stepmother sometimes beat him.
He said his father and an uncle in Akron, Ohio, arranged for smugglers to
meet him at the airport near his home in Fu Zhou. One gave him a passport
and a green card and taught him a few English words.
Landing at Newark Liberty International Airport in January 2003, he
recalled, "immigration asked me questions I did not understand." His papers
were quickly unmasked as bogus, and he was detained at the Berks County
Youth Center in Leesport, Pa., where he spent about a year before the
facility was closed in a scandal over child abuse. He was then moved to a
center in Chicago for seven months before being released into his uncle's
custody with monthly reporting requirements.
He earned a 4.0 grade-point average in high school, his teachers wrote the
courts, and arrived late only when he took the bus to report to the
Meanwhile, his uncle, a cook, said in a separate sworn statement that he
began getting calls from "one of the snakeheads" demanding payment of
$60,000. Finally, he said, he quit answering the phone.
In February, the uncle said, Young told him that he had been directed to
report only every three months.
But when Young showed up in April, Mr. Sullivan said in federal court on
Friday, "they handcuff him, they shackle him, they throw him on an airplane,
they fly him to Chicago to catch a connecting flight to Hong Kong."
On the phone, Young said he broke free in the van. "I just run two blocks in
the street," he recalled. Recaptured and taken to the airport, he said, "I
saw the airplane in front of me, and I was so afraid I hit the wall."
Mr. Sullivan said in court, "he smashes his head against the wall three
times and knocks himself unconscious." That put off the deportation, which
Mr. Sullivan urged the court to stay further. But Judge Melinda Harmon said
she doubted that she had the authority to do so.
Howard Rose, an assistant United States attorney, said in arguing that the
decision should remain with the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, that
"this is a person who attempted to enter the United States by using a
fraudulent document." And when, Mr. Rose said, the government tried to
execute a removal order, "he physically resists," describing the acts as
felonies and saying that "in the Southern District of Texas we prosecute
things like that."
Young said that if he were allowed to remain in the country he would like to
become a biologist. "If there's another opportunity, I would have my own
company, any kind," he said.