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WASHINGTON--In a move decried by Chinese students studying in the United States, the Senate yesterday sustained President Bush's veto of a bill protecting them from deportation after their visas expire.
Senators voted 62-37 to override Bush's veto, four short of the two-thirds necessary.
The action came a day after the House had voted overwhelmingly to reject Bush's veto, and followed intense lobbying on the part of Bush and former President Richard M. Nixon.
"I think it's a sad day for us," said Pei Minxin, 33, a Harvard doctoral student who participated in the pro-democracy protests in Beijing last spring. "I'm afraid the president will continue his policy of accommodating the Chinese dictators."
Pei holds a visa common to many of the students who fled to the United States after the Chinese government in June cracked down on the protests in Tiananmen Square. Under the visa's requirements, bearers must return to China when their visas expire and live there for two years before they can apply for a new one.
Xiaoxia Gong, 33, a Harvard graduate student, was one of several Chinese students gathered at the China Information Center in Newton who said the legislation would have provided a sense of security that they now do not have.
The students fear that Bush's directive allowing them to remain in the U.S. could be dissolved someday, leaving them vulnerable to deportation to their homeland where many may be jailed upon return.
"I'm very frustrated," said Gong. "I don't believe Mr. Bush. How can we believe someone who has already cheated and sent high-level officials to China when he said he would not? We don't want our destiny put in someone else's hands."
Yuan Liu, 30, a Chinese student enrolled at Brandeis University, called yesterday's development "bad news for all Chinese students here."
"Many students fear they will be sent back," said Liu. "I'm scared for all my friends."
Bush said the bill to eliminate that requirement, which he vetoed in November, was unnecessary because he has signed an administrative order allowing Chinese students to stay in the United States.
Bush said the measure also could damage U.S. relations with China, which has condemned the legislation and threatened to curtail exchange programs if it becomes law.
The visa debate, which would affect an estimated 40,000 Chinese students studying in the United States, took on added importance as the year's first test of strength between Bush and the Democratic-controlled Congress and as a referendum on the president's China policy.
Republican Sen. William Cohen of Maine said in floor debate that he would vote against the president to uphold "America's symbol to a world that is struggling to throw off the chains of dictators."
But Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) said the issue was "really a political challenge to the president's constitutional authority. I believe the challenge is ill-advised, works against our national interest, and is likely to cause a further deterioration of our relationship with China."
In the days before the vote, the White House had mounted a fierce lobbying blitz which included telephone calls from Bush and other top administration officials to wavering senators and personal visits from Vice President Dan Quayle.
Nixon, who laid the groundwork for modern U.S.-China relations with a diplomatic opening in the early 1970s, telephoned some senators to say Bush's position was in the longterm interests of the United States.
After the vote, Bush invited the 37 Republican senators who voted with him, and the 25 House Republicans who stood with him on Wednesday, to the White House for beer and pretzels.
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