Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- More than a dozen members of Congress have asked President Trump to press for the release of U.S. pastors imprisoned in China, as the two countries sign phase one of a trade agreement today.

Six senators and seven House members sent a letter to the President on Monday, requesting that he raise the cases of several U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been detained or imprisoned in China, in talks with Chinese leaders.

Among the detained Americans are two Christian pastors who were working in China and neighboring Burma, and who were given prison sentences of seven years and life imprisonment.

The members’ letter was sent to the White House as the U.S. and China are expected to close on the first phase of a trade deal on Wednesday.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), co-chairs of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), led the letter. Other commissioners signed it, including Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Angus King (I-Maine), Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.), and Representatives Chris Smith (R-N,J,), Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.), Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), Brian Mast (R-Fla.), and Ben McAdams (D-Utah).

One of the two imprisoned pastors is John Cao, a legal permanent resident from North Carolina who taught in schools for ethnic minority communities in Burma before his arrest in March of 2018, on his way back into China from Burma.

Cao was sentenced to seven years in prison for allegedly “organizing others to illegally cross the border,” a sentence that was upheld by a Chinese court this summer. The UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has determined that Cao was arbitrarily detained, and has requested his immediate release.

Another pastor, David Lin, was detained by China in 2006 while awaiting approval to build a church. He was convicted on fraud-related charges and sentenced to life in prison, although his sentence was later reduced to a scheduled release in the year 2030.

“We write to express our deep concern about the Chinese government’s imprisonment or arbitrary detention of U.S. citizens and permanent residents in China,” the members wrote President Trump in their Monday letter.

Several other Americans are mentioned in the letter, which also asks Trump to raise the situation of relatives of American citizens or legal permanent residents who are currently detained in Xinjiang. Almost two million ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims have been incarcerated in mass internment camps in the region, with reports of torture, forced marriage, and organ trafficking.

“These family members, like the Americans mentioned above, need the Administration to be tenacious advocates for them and the estimated 1.8 million ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims arbitrarily detained in the XUAR,” the letter states.

Sen. Rubio told CBS’ Face the Nation on Jan. 5 that, with trade talks taking place between the U.S. and China, “absolutely” there should be sanctions on Chinese leaders for human rights abuses committed including the detention of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

“I will never accept the notion that somehow in order to be able to sell them [China] more things, we have to look the other way on some of the grotesque human rights violations that we're seeing systemized on their part, both in the Xianjing province of—throughout China in general, but also in places like Hong Kong as well,” Rubio said.