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Experts warn of national security risks after CBP slashes question list for Chinese migrants from 40 to just 5

WASHINGTON – US Customs and Border Protection watered down the screening process for Chinese asylum seekers amid a record surge of such cases — but experts and lawmakers warn the move risks letting national security threats slip through the net.

The CBP slashed the number of questions its processors were required to ask from roughly 40 to just five following an uptick in monthly border crossings by Chinese nationals in the first quarter of 2023, according to an April 30 email published by the Daily Caller this week.

Experts told The Post that while the change was necessary to expedite CBP’s processing of applications, it heightens the prospect of accidentally granting asylum to bad actors from the nation’s top adversary.

“The change in procedure appears to reflect the reality that the volume of Chinese migrants is overwhelming the US immigration control system … [and] should speed up the processing of applicants,” said Timothy Heath, senior international defense researcher at the RAND Corporation think tank.

“However, any simplification risks raising the risk that unwanted individuals slip through the cracks,” Heath cautioned.

Migrants from China surrendering to Customs and Border Protection officers after crossing the border in Yuma, Arizona on June 4, 2023. James Keivom

The House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party told The Post on Thursday that axing the questions was “unacceptable” – and posed a threat to national security.

“Americans do not want America’s foremost adversary facilitating the flow of fentanyl into our country or sending thousands of people across our border illegally,” the subcommittee said in a statement. “President Biden needs to secure the border now.”

CBP declined multiple requests for comment from The Post last week.

Scrambling to keep up

Between January and November 2023, the number of Chinese migrants encountered by Border Patrol officers more than doubled compared to the same time period the prior year – from 25,397 to 59,642. The data for December 2023 is not yet available.

As migration rates soared, so did the workloads of CBP personnel tasked with processing asylum applications.

Migrants waiting to be processed at a facility in Brownsville, Texas on May 4, 2023. James Keivom

Questions cut to save time ranged from asking about prior arrests to how someone got to the US, including whether any smuggling fees were paid to human traffickers, according to documents published by the Daily Caller.

Still, the five questions that remain appear to be tailored to raise alarms about potential Chinese Communist Party-related threats, according to the April email reported by the outlet.

“There is no requirement for 100% Chinese in-depth interviews or phone downloads,” the message said. “Intake of the Chinese by any processor are asked the basic questions to include … military service, place of birth, employment … [and] political party.”

While prior Chinese military service and affiliation with the CCP are obvious red flags, the other questions are also tied to identifying threats.

Processors are asked to alert if a migrant reports attending certain schools associated with security risks or working in the science, technology, medical, financial or government sectors, according to the email.

The CBP directed processors to also alert if a migrant lists their birthplace as Xinjiang, where Beijing has forced millions of Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnic minority group, into inhumane internment camps in recent years.

Chinese asylum-seekers whose answers raise alarms are referred to the agency’s Tactical Terrorism Response Team “for an in-depth interview” – but those who do not are moved along in the application process, according to the email.

“If they do not alert to the above, there is no requirement to further delay [the] current processing pathway,” the message said.

It’s unclear whether or by how much the reduced questioning has affected the workload of bogged-down CBP processors — as the number of Chinese migrant crossings ballooned nearly 54% in the months that followed the change.

No end in sight

On average, CBP officers spotted about 3,578 Chinese migrants entering the US illegally per month prior to the policy change. After the new policy went into effect in May, that average sprang to about 5,434 per month over the eight months that followed.

The timing of the policy change and migration boom is likely more correlation than causation, national security experts explained.

US Customs and Border Protection officers with asylum seeking migrants from China in California. NewsNation

The increase is best attributed to a number of other factors – not the least of which being the desire to escape China’s slowed economy and oppressive, dictatorial government.

It’s for those reasons that Heath warned it’s unlikely the flow of Chinese asylum seekers will stem anytime soon — which could spawn further problems as avenues to deport such migrants are strained by Beijing’s unwillingness to work with the US.

“As the economic and political situation in China deteriorates, the volume of Chinese people seeking asylum could well grow,” he said. “Moreover, China has proven uncooperative in repatriating illegal immigrants captured in the United States.”

Of all the contributing factors, experts say the CCP’s repressive tactics – from the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy efforts in Hong Kong to the inhumane treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang – are among the top reasons Chinese citizens flee to the freedoms of America.

Asylum-seeking migrants from Ecuador and China at a camp in Jacumba Hot Springs, California on Nov. 30, 2023. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

So strong is that desire that more than half of Chinese migrants last year went to extreme measures to cross through the southern border over more traditional entry points better suited to travel from Asia.

Many middle class Chinese families without the funds for legal pathways have opted for a brutal, grueling roughly 13,000-mile route circulated on social media last year.

Dubbed “Zouxian” – Chinese for “running the route” – the trip involves flying first to Ecuador, which does not require visas for stays less than 90 days, according to TikTok videos on the subject.

The migrants then make the roughly 3,000-mile treacherous trip to the US-Mexico border, which involves crossing through the mountains and jungle of the Darién Gap connecting Central and South America.

After information about the route spread widely on Chinese social media, the number of Chinese migrants at the southwest border jumped more than tenfold from 2,176 in fiscal year 2022 to about 24,314 in fiscal year 2023, according to the latest CBP data.

With no end in sight to the recent surge, experts said it’s unlikely the CBP will return to its prior question list anytime soon as processors face overwhelming workloads.

Aside from tightening US immigration policies, lawmakers have options to alleviate the strain on the CBP, including a $106 billion supplemental funding bill before Congress for Ukraine, Israel and the southern border, which includes funding for 300 additional processing coordinators for the agency.

The Pentagon could also order another National Guard deployment to help process the paperwork as it did last year.

In early May, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin sent 1,500 troops to the border for a 90-day deployment ahead of the expiration of the pandemic-era health policy known as Title 42, which allowed CBP agents to turn away migrants quickly for health-related reasons.

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Written by SaleemBaloch

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