Immigration is on the mind of many a world leader these days. While not yet having risen to that level of pre-eminence, thoughts of how to properly deal with people illegally crossing Yunnan's border from Myanmar have been occupying Yu Mayue (余麻约), director of the Standing Committee of the Dehong People's Congress. He raised the issue in Beijing, as leaders from around the country met for the fifth session of the Twelfth National People's Congress (NPC).
Yu — who is from the Jingpo minority — made his remarks on March 6, explaining how thousands of undocumented female immigrants in his far-western Yunnan prefecture live in an untenable legal gray area. Upon the completion of a government-funded survey, Yu estimates between 20,000 and 30,000 Burmese women live illegally in Dehong — almost all of them married into Chinese families. He explained to reporters covering the NPC:
Because our country has no specific policies to deal with such situations, [these women] cannot acquire a hukou, or receive medical or social security insurance...local governments would like to help them and lift them out of poverty, but their lack of identity papers creates barriers as people without ID or hukou are not entitled to benefits.
A hukou (户口) — or 'household registration' — is issued to every Chinese person by their local Public Security Bureau just after birth. Holders of household registrations must then obtain a national identification card, a necessity which makes children eligible for public schools and is the only form of ID accepted when adults apply for jobs, purchase insurance, obtain driver's licenses, get married or attempt to buy or rent property.
In other words, a hukou is a necessity for all Chinese citizens. However, the women Yu was speaking about cross the border illegally and then often marry Chinese men and start families. Although not discussed, but almost certainly implied by Yu, is the fact that the children of these women are also locked out of the Chinese system — and cannot even be born in hospitals — at least through normal legal channels.
Similar, although perhaps less pronounced situations exist, added Yu, in all of Yunnan's "frontier" prefectures. This covers nearly half of Yunnan's 17 prefectural level regions, including Baoshan, Honghe, Lincang, Nujiang, Pu'er, Xishuangbanna and Wenshan.
Representatives from Dehong and Lincang may currently be able to make stronger cases for reform in Beijing than the other Yunnan frontier representatives attending NPC meetings. Both prefectures have seen thousands of Burmese refugees stream across the border in recent months as people flee renewed violence. A long-standing civil war in Myanmar's Shan State seriously escalated just as Chinese bureaucrats gathered in Beijing — with fighting clearly visible from Chinese border towns.
Instability in the region, therefore, may swell the numbers of Burmese men and women looking to stay in China long-term, intensifying Yu's concerns. "We are pushing for legislation to better handle illegal immigration issues, but it's complicated and requires thorough study," he said.
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