• Reuters

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A bipartisan group of senators has proposed legislation that would impose sanctions on Chinese officials involved in enforcing exit bans on U.S. officials in China.

Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Ed Markey introduced the legislation after writing President Donald Trump to urge him to press Beijing to free detained Americans and U.S. residents, including those targeted by exit bans.

“It is immoral and unjust that the Communist Chinese government uses so-called ‘exit bans’ to prevent American citizens from leaving China. We must protect our citizens and ensure that they are able to return home when they travel abroad,” Rubio said in a statement on Wednesday.

Markey highlighted the case of two of his Massachusetts constituents, Victor and Cynthia Liu, who had been “unfairly” barred from leaving China since June 2018.

“In addition to having their lives upended by not being able to return home, they face regular surveillance, harassment, and threats from Chinese authorities,” he said.

In the letter to Trump on Tuesday, the lawmakers said Victor and Cynthia Liu’s mother, Sandra Han, was detained on criminal charges in China and the family’s New York-based attorney believed they were being used as human collateral to coerce their father, Liu Changming, to return to China to face fraud charges.

The legislation, if it eventually becomes law, would deny or revoke visas of Chinese officials involved in the planning and execution of the “exit ban” policy and require the State Department to report publicly on the number of Americans being punished by the policy.

The statement said it was estimated that at least two dozen U.S. citizens had been prevented from leaving China over the past three years.

The Chinese Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the proposed legislation, news of which came the same day as the United States and China signed an initial trade deal to defuse an 18-month row between the world’s two largest economies.

Georgetown University in Washington said Victor Liu was a student in the university’s graduating class of 2021 and called for his urgent release.

“We sincerely hope a diplomatic solution can be reached for his return home as soon as possible,” the university’s president, John DeGioia, said in a statement.