Two People From China Seek Asylum in Hawaii Prior To Mandatory Coronavirus Quarantine

15 hours ago

Two asylum seekers from China have been taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after arriving at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. 

A spokesperson from the Hawaii Department of Health said "two individuals are being held at the federal detention center and present no risk to the public."

Both came to Hawaii before the White House banned entry to foreign nationals who had traveled in China within two weeks. The policy went into effect on Sunday at noon.

State epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park explained that the two Chinese travelers immediately went to U.S. immigration authorities to seek asylum upon their arrival in Honolulu. 

"They're not actually persons of concern," she said.

The exact reason why the two travelers from China are seeking asylum is not clear. 

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol could not be reached for comment.

Immigration lawyer, John Eagan explained that under the federal Immigration and Nationality Act, escaping disease is not a statutorily recognized reason to seek asylum. 

Under the law, a person is a refugee if they are fleeing their country due to persecution of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group or political opinion.

Park noted that she does not expect more asylum seekers from China because of the new travel restrictions.

Although there are currently no cases of coronavirus in Hawaii, the state has been preparing for a potential outbreak of the disease that has killed over 170 people around the world. 

Officials believe the respiratory illness originated in Wuhan, China, and has since spread to 36 countries, including the U.S.

Because the cases can be linked to travel to China, direct flights have been stopped to and from that country. However, the Honolulu international airport has been identified as one of the 11 airports designated by the federal government to accept U.S. citizens leaving China. 

Hawaii was originally one of the states identified for repatriation of U.S. citizens living in China, to return to America. 

"A lot of diplomat families and other folks who were in China [are] being evacuated directly to pre-designated military bases on the mainland and going into mandatory quarantine there," Park said. "That has no bearing on the state of Hawaii at this time thankfully."

Hawaii was removed from the list after Lt. Gov. Josh Green and state health director Bruce Anderson expressed their concern about the state's lack of resources to handle that type of operation.

On Monday, state officials announced that they plan to quarantine people suspected of having the virus at a secure facility at the Pearl Harbor military base.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.