Six years ago, a Taiwanese doctoral student in the US, surnamed Tsai (蔡), was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of possession and online distribution of child pornography — offenses that are punishable by between five and 30 years in prison.
Tsai, who was just 27 years old and a student at a top US university, had a fine future ahead of him, but his bright prospects turned dim when he stepped over a red line just when the US was cracking down on the sexual abuse of children.
At the time, some commentators in Taiwan said that Tsai had been treated unfairly, citing the Child and Youth Sexual Exploitation Prevention Act (兒童及少年性剝削防制條例), which holds those who film or produce child pornography liable, but not those who possess such images.
However, the US and European nations believe that the demand for such images “just for enjoyment” creates an incentive for those who provide such images to prey on children, and this makes possession of child pornography images an incitement to crime.
US research has shown that more than 50 percent of people who sexually abuse children have at some time possessed child pornography. Accordingly, US law imposes heavy penalties for possession of child pornography. The US government has since 2003 set up task forces in each state to crack down on child abuse and online child pornography.
Under such circumstances, Tsai could hardly evade criminal liability for distributing child pornography on the Internet.
The same is true of an incident involving Taiwanese exchange student Sun An-tso (孫安佐), who was arrested last week for threatening to shoot people at his high school in Pennsylvania.
People in the US have been taking to the streets to protest against the government’s failure to control guns, which they have said has led to frequent shootings. Young people complain that they cannot grow up safely. At such a sensitive time, Sun allegedly boasted that he would go to his school and shoot it up, which is what has caused such an uproar.
To make matters worse, Sun was found to be in possession of bullets and military equipment, and to have used an iPad provided by his school to search for information about how to buy AK-47 and AR-15 assault rifles. Consequently, the US police are handling the case at a level that comes close to counterterrorism.
The red line that has been crossed in Sun’s case has to do with the connection between immigrants and terrorist attacks. Commenting on the case, a lawyer suggested that Sun could get out of trouble based on the argument that he has only been in the US for a few months and has not yet overcome cultural differences, but this suggestion is naive.
All the hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon and the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, had entered the US on student, tourist or business visas. The student who carried out the 2007 Virginia Tech campus shooting was an immigrant from South Korea. The 2013 Boston Marathon bombing was carried out by two ethnic Chechen brothers who had immigrated to the US from Kyrgyzstan.
When calling for “extreme vetting” of immigrants, US President Donald Trump said that what a 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting had in common with a 2015 shooting and bomb attack in San Bernardino, California, is that they were both perpetrated by “immigrants or the children of immigrants.”
New York City was struck by two terrorist attacks toward the end of last year. Of these, the alleged attacker in a Halloween shooting is from Uzbekistan, while the main suspect in an attempted bombing at Times Square subway station is from Bangladesh, both young immigrants.
Taiwanese have the good fortune that their passports give them visa-free entry to many countries. However, in view of the close connection between terrorist attacks and immigrants, the US has already decided to apply “extreme vetting,” so that even those who do not need a US visa will be required, upon entry to the US, to hand over their mobile phones or data, such as their passwords for social media, and anyone who does not comply will be refused entry.
Taiwanese parents who keep their heads down as they slave away to earn money to send their children abroad should sometimes raise their heads and observe what is going on in other countries.
If they keep in touch with the latest developments, it might help prevent such misfortunes from befalling their children.
Sandy Yeh is secretary-general of the Asian Association of Police Studies.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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