Friday, May 5, 2023

Chinese migrants have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border

Chinese migrants have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border 

May 3 2023

Most of the migrants who enter the United States through its southern border come from Mexico or somewhere in Central America. But not all of them. Recently, Chinese migrants have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in record numbers.

Echo Wang, a reporter for Reuters who was part of a team that interviewed dozens of Chinese citizens in South Texas, spoke to the Texas Standard about what’s driving so many people to make the trip.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: I think a lot of people might be surprised that so many people are actually able to get out of China in the first place to make a trek to the U.S. Typically, where do they go first? What is their first transit point?

Echo Wang: So most of the people – actually all of the people, with one exception – that I spoke to for this story, they flew first to Hong Kong. And then from Hong Kong they flew to Turkey, to Istanbul; from there they took a flight to the capital of Ecuador, because Ecuador is the only country in South America that is visa-free for Chinese visitors.

Wow. And so from Ecuador, moving north to the border between Mexico and the U.S.?

Yes. And people, a lot of them that I spoke to, spend over a month on the roads traveling from Hong Kong all the way to the border.

That is incredible. So what seems to be driving these relatively large numbers of Chinese citizens to the border with the U.S. and Mexico?

One of the things we’ve learned from the reporting is the economic aftershock of COVID. Because you might know this very well, China went through a very strict period of COVID lockdown. So a lot of people that we spoke to, a lot of the migrants, they had been small business owners. A lot of them had online stores selling from makeup to clothing to shoes to building supply. And a lot of their business got crushed during the COVID lockdown. So that’s what was described to me as a trigger for the trip.

So tell me about the role of social media in all of this. Are they actively going online and trying to search out ways to get out of China or ways to come to the U.S.?

A lot of people describe to me that they actually came across this by accident. A lot of people describe to me, for example, they just one day saw a video describing how to go to America on their Douyin feed; Douyin’s the Chinese counterpart of TikTok. And then some of the people didn’t understand what was that about, so they did some research – and because of the algorithm, you just keep getting more videos of a similar content. That’s how everything started for many of the people we spoke to.

I find that really surprising, given that we know that China has a lot of control over its Internet content there. And the fact that this would be even available in China, I guess it speaks to something about China’s efforts to try to keep a lock on what the Chinese people know about issues like this.

That’s a great point. One thing we actually found out watching all this Douyin videos is a lot of the daily users, they kind of package this not into like “how do we flee to America” or “how do we migrate to America” – they actually kind of use hashtags such as “international traveling” or like “trekking through the rainforest.” It’s almost like a vacation you’re taking instead of a very dangerous journey you’re taking.

Very interesting. And this prevents authorities from checking what it is that they’re searching for, that kind of thing?

We don’t know that for sure, but people we spoke to said this is kind of a clever way for them to supplement around censorship. One thing that we also found out about kind of the information that this migrant would learn from the Internet is a lot of kind of mixed information, a lot of false information. And a lot of them read this from platforms like Douyin or YouTube. And also just to your point, for example, one of the Internet Douyin influencers – his name is Baozai – his original account posting very detailed information about how to come to America in this way was blocked by Douyin and by other online social media platforms.

Growing Number of Migrants From China Arriving at US-Mexico Border

Li Xiaosan and his teenage son recently arrived in the United States from China. They are among a growing number of Chinese migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 4,366 migrants from China encountered Border Patrol officials after crossing the southern border without authorization from October 2022 to February 2023. That compares with the 421 migrants who were encountered during the same period in 2021 and 2022.

Xiaosan told VOA's Mandarin Service that he and his 16-year-old son traveled for more than 50 days from Hong Kong to Macau to Istanbul to Ecuador. From there, they traveled through six Latin American countries, including walking on their own through the Darien Gap, a dangerous mountainous jungle between Colombia and Panama where tens of thousands of migrants crossed in 2022 on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border.

On Tuesday, the U.S., Colombia and Panama announced a two-month operation to curb migrant smuggling in the Darien Gap using “new lawful and flexible pathways for tens of thousands of migrants and refugees as an alternative to irregular migration,” but without specific details on how the process will take place.

The announcement also included investments in job creation in the Colombian and Panamanian border communities with the goal of providing more economic opportunities to reduce human smuggling.

More migrants with stories similar to Xiaosan’s are likely to make the same dangerous journey to the U.S. border, according to Chen Zhong, an immigration lawyer living in Los Angeles, who asked VOA Mandarin to use a pseudonym for fear of retaliation from the Chinese community since he assists undocumented Chinese migrants who have recently arrived in the country.

Zhong has been working with Chinese migrants for more than 20 years. He told VOA that some people share their success stories on the app Telegram “and it spreads to 10 [people], and then [the information] spreads to a hundred. Many people know that this is a route that can be taken.”

Xiaosan and his son arrived on February 23 in Brownsville, Texas. They were detained by the U.S. Border Patrol and remained in U.S. government custody for five days.

After they were released, an immigrant advocacy group in Texas helped them continue to their destination —Albany, New York, where a Catholic organization helped them get settled.

They arrived in Albany on March 1 and have their first immigration court date in October.

The Migration Policy Institute estimates that about 4% of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States are from China.

Chinese migration experts say the increase in migrants from China at the U.S.-Mexico border is due to economic conditions, the Chinese government's aggressive COVID-19 lockdown policies, the deterioration of religious freedom, human rights issues and the rollback of U.S. border policies put in place under former President Donald Trump that banned travelers from mainland China because of the pandemic.

Data from the U.S. Department of Justice show that Chinese nationals are granted asylum at a rate of 58%, compared with 10% for Guatemala, 9% for Honduras and 11% for El Salvador, often because it’s easier for Chinese nationals to prove their asylum claims.

Protecting his oldest son

Xiaosan told VOA he has filed for asylum protection in the United States.

A rights activist from Henan province, Xiaosan participated in protests during Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution in 2014 and has continued to speak up against the Chinese government's authoritarianism. He left China after his last encounter with Chinese federal officials.

Li Xiaoshan in the Chinese army. (Courtesy Li Xiapshan)
Li Xiaoshan in the Chinese army.

“Last year, they came to my neighborhood posing as pandemic prevention officials,” he said. “They shoved me into a car and threatened me and my family.”

After that, Xiaosan decided it was time to leave China.

Xiaosan said his son is attending high school classes and is adapting well. Xiaosan said he hopes to set up a nonprofit organization to show Chinese people how to file U.S. immigration applications and how to find jobs. He is sharing his stories on Twitter and blogs about his experience with U.S. immigration law.

Xiaosan’s wife and 9-year-old son are still in China. He said it was “too dangerous” to bring everyone together.

“So far, [Chinese] police haven't bothered them,” he told VOA.

Before he left China, he visited the final resting place of some of his ancestors to say a final goodbye. But he has not shared his journey through the Darien Gap with his parents.

“I do not dare to tell them what happened. I only told them that we traveled for the Chinese New Year,” Xiaosan said.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments always welcome!