Young Chinese Immigrant Still in Legal Limbo

A young Chinese immigrant who's stuck in political limbo here in Houston could soon find out if he'll be deported back to China after almost a year of legal battles. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

Click to Listen

The case involves 17-year-old Young Zheng, who was arrested when he tried to enter the United States in 2003 using fake immigration documents provided by Chinese smugglers. Zheng was eventually released to a relative in Ohio, but was re-arrested after a misunderstanding with immigration officials. While at the airport for a flight back to China, Zheng knocked himself unconscious, saying he'd rather die here than go back to China. Now in Houston awaiting an appeal, Zheng's attorney Nicholas Morrow says his client faces threats of violence and even death if he's deported.

"When a child is in a position where he could potentially be returned to a country and be abused, neglected or even killed, the government has an obligation to perform due diligence and make sure that it's in the child's best interest to go back to the country. We feel that the government should have that obligation for all children across the board, that it's in the best interest of society to make sure that obviously kids are put in a position where they have the best potential not only for success, but for life."

On Monday, attorneys asked US District Judge David Hittner to overturn an earlier ruling that said Zheng could not seek asylum under what's known as special immigrant juvenile status, which would allow him to stay. Hittner is expected to rule on the request next week. If that doesn't work, Morrow says Zheng has a separate appeal pending.

"Our hope is that we're going to win this appeal in the district court here in Houston and we'll be able to get this special immigrant juvenile status for Young, and he'll be able to stay here and we'll get all that done before we get a decision from the Third Circuit or in the alternative we hope that the Third Circuit will rule in our favor in his other appeal."

Government prosecutors aren't allowed to comment on the pending case, but Louisa Deason with Immigration and Customs Enforcement says cases like Zheng's are common.

"When you are dealing with individuals that have been smuggled into this country, they're really pretty much at the mercy of the snakeheads or the smugglers that have brought them into the United States illegally. Unfortunately we have to abide by the laws that are in the books and bottom line is this litigation will come to a conclusion eventually and if it's a situation where this individual is then rendered deported, we will execute that deportation."

Local immigration attorney Gordon Quan says it appears Zheng has a legitimate argument for being allowed to stay in the United States.

"He has at least a right to a hearing on that issue and it seems like he's been summarily dismissed on his claim, so I think that there is merit to his case. I think that it should be heard and I'm glad that the court is now entertaining the case."

Zheng has learned English and is taking high school classes here in Houston. His appeal is being handled pro bono by attorneys from Fulbright and Jaworski.

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...