BOSTON -- Only a week after the Supreme Court's ruling that Haitian refugees may be returned forcibly to their country, some 80,000 Chinese students and scholars who were in the United States following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre will become automatically eligible today for permanent residency.
The granting of residency documents -- widely known as green cards -- by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to this group of Chinese comes as the Clinton administration seeks to tighten immigration controls.
It has triggered both relief and ambivalence in the Chinese community and the frustration of other asylum-seekers.
Immigration specialists, business and academic leaders have hailed the Chinese Student Protection Act as a humanitarian act and an economic boon for the United States.
"This is a gold mine for the U.S. We are getting the best and the brightest of the most populous nation in the world," Adam Green, who heads the immigration law department at Sullivan & Worcester in Boston, said about the green-card "giveaway."
But critics, among them some Chinese academics, assail the move as a blanket amnesty that offers immigrant status to many Chinese who can't prove, and will not be required to prove, a well-founded fear of persecution if they returned to China.
"The flaw in this law is that it protects everybody, regardless of their background or activity," said Bin Bin Ding, a researcher at the University of New Hampshire who said he was a democracy activist in China and will apply for residency.
Some advocates for other refugee groups, particularly Haitians, are outraged at what they consider blatant political and class bias.
"I am shocked. Clearly, this is an act of injustice for Haitians. It is obviously different rules for different people," said Jean Marc Jean-Baptiste, director of the Haitian Multi-Service Center in Boston, which helps resettle Haitian refugees.
The issue of who will get the sought-after visas has created not only resentment among other asylum seekers, but substantial soul-searching among Chinese.
Some Chinese say they are torn over to what extent the whole group deserves permanent status when many had no direct link to the revolt that led to death and imprisonment of their peers back home.
"There is guilty feeling. But also there is the pressure of real life. You will be forced, I think, to help yourself," said Zhang Yunfei, a computer specialist at Harvard University and student at Boston University who plans to apply for one of the visas.
Under the Chinese Student Protection Act, Chinese nationals who can prove they were in the United States from June 5, 1989, to April 11, 1990, are eligible for permanent residency.