An increasing number of Chinese nationals crossing the San Diego border from Mexico has been recorded by authorities in the fiscal year ending on Sept. 30.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at California entry ports apprehended at least 261 illegal Chinese immigrants, a 50% spike from the previous year’s 177, the San Diego Union Tribune reported.
The immigrants were stuffed into trunks, spare tire compartments and other covert spaces that force them to contort their bodies in unimaginable positions. These conditions expose them to hazardous risks, such as extreme heat and lack of air supply.
Those who successfully enter the United States reportedly head to Los Angeles or New York. In San Diego County, Border Patrol apprehended 218 Chinese immigrants by mid-September, though such a figure is remarkably less from the previous year’s 861.
In late August, 23 Chinese immigrants along with seven Mexicans, including two women, were apprehended after being smuggled through a crude tunnel near San Diego’s Otay Mesa Port of Entry.
Some reportedly tried to run as border agents approached them, while others attempted to return to the tunnel.
Authorities found that the tunnel’s entrance was located in a building in the Garita de Otay area in Tijuana, about 328 feet (100 meters) south of the border, as per NBC San Diego.
Deputy U.S. Attorney Mark Conover, second-in-charge of San Diego’s prosecution office, told the San Diego Union Tribune:
“We see these sort of alien smuggling issues as humanitarian concerns because of both the methods of how they are smuggled in and the conditions they find themselves in once in the United States. We remain concerned many Chinese immigrants pay tens of thousands of dollars to be smuggled into the United States and find themselves paying off that debt under difficult labor circumstances for decades.”
The immigrants, who often come from diverse backgrounds, reportedly pay as much as $70,000 to be smuggled. John Kang, a San Diego immigration lawyer, said:
“Even though we have been seeing a rapid increase of the wealthy and middle income population in China, there are still a huge number of poor people there. It is appealing to these poor people to get to the U.S. to work hard and make a better living for themselves and their families.”
The immigrants, however, are often free from criminal immigration violations, and instead stand as witnesses in cases against their smugglers.
There are currently some 268,000 illegal immigrants from China, according to the Migration Policy Institute. This makes them the fifth largest group among 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. after Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
Elliot Young, a history professor at Lewis and Clark College in Oregon and author of “Alien Nation”, a book which documents China’s immigration history to the U.S., told Voice of America last year:
“There have been lots of historical cases of Chinese people being brought into the United States illegally on ships, in railroad coaches, hidden in cars, through tunnels, on airplanes – every imaginable way that humans can think of to cross the border. The Chinese were among the first to invent these ways of evading border control.”