Should the Federal Government Expel Chinese Journalists as a Matter of Reciprocity?

By Dan Cadman on February 26, 2020

American media outlets are reporting that the U.S. government is contemplating whether to expel or take other reciprocal action against Chinese journalists as a result of the People's Republic of China (PRC) expelling some Wall Street Journal reporters after their newspaper published an article whose headline the PRC deemed racist.

According to Bloomberg News, there was a Monday White House meeting hosted by deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger (ironically, himself a formal Wall Street Journal reporter based in Beijing). As Bloomberg News explains:

There's an intense debate over how severely to respond to the expulsions last week. Some advocate ordering dozens — and perhaps hundreds — of Chinese reporters to leave, while others say that's not legally possible or in keeping with American values on freedom of the press, according to several of the officials.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are among those arguing for a more moderate approach, especially as the U.S. needs to work with China in stemming the coronavirus outbreak, one person familiar with the discussions said. [Emphasis added.]

I can't believe I read this, and hope it's a misconstruction of the facts. Else, I'm obliged to ask: Have this administration's officials learned nothing from the spate of "travel ban" cases that floated to the Supreme Court where the president's actions were upheld? Even the most cursory reading of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) reflects a superabundance of legal bases on which our government is empowered to act.

First: If the president so chooses, he can use the selfsame section of the INA invoked in the so-called travel ban executive order, Section 212(f), Suspension of Entry or Imposition of Restrictions by the President, to order the State Department to halt issuing visas, and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspectors deny entry, to PRC journalists.

Second: INA Section 212(a)(3)(C) provides that an alien is inadmissible if his "entry or proposed activities in the United States the Secretary of State has reasonable ground to believe would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences for the United States". If the United States truly believes that a strong statement must be made to the PRC to prevent additional future expulsions of American journalists, then the secretary of State only needs to invoke this provision of law (and its commensurate deportation provision at INA Section 1227(a)(4)(C)) to block or expel PRC journalists in the United States on nonimmigrant visas.

Third: It's worth taking a quick look at the relevant provision of the INA, Section 101(a)(15)(I), which governs admission of foreign journalists. This is what it says:

(I) upon a basis of reciprocity, an alien who is a bona fide representative of foreign press, radio, film, or other foreign information media, who seeks to enter the United States solely to engage in such vocation, and the spouse and children of such a representative, if accompanying or following to join him. [Emphasis added.]

"Upon a basis of reciprocity." The law could hardly be clearer. The Chinese government's decision to expel U.S. journalists invites reciprocal action of a similar sort. Of course, whether such expulsions would be "in keeping with American values on freedom of the press" (to quote the Bloomberg article) is an entirely different question.

But unless the United States government is prepared to swallow hundreds of additional, increasingly hard-to-ignore humiliations by the Chinese Communist party apparatus, which will interpret a failure to act as an invitation to heap on abuse and inflict its own decisions on what subjects may be reported upon American journalists, then it seems that, at a minimum, measured one-for-one expulsions should be the order of the day.

Topics: Politics