Federal Agents Break Up Alien-Smuggling Ring

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Friday August 4 3:42 PM ET http://dailynews.yahoo.com/htx/nm/20000804/ts/crime_aliens_dc_1.html

Federal Agents Break Up Alien-Smuggling Ring

By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) - Federal agents have broken up an alien smuggling ring that ferried indentured workers from China through the Caribbean and into the United States using doctored Japanese passports, officials said on Friday.

Six alleged smugglers, known among Chinese as ''snakeheads,'' were arrested and indicted on charges of conspiracy and alien smuggling, said James Goldman assistant director of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service's Miami district.

A seventh, alleged ringleader Winson Zhang, was a fugitive facing similar charges, he said.

Immigration agents became suspicious when they intercepted an unusual number of Chinese nationals entering Miami International Airport from the Caribbean with fraudulent or forged Japanese passports, Goldman said.

In the last 18 months, 653 such passengers have been detained by immigration authorities in Miami.

Eight months ago, U.S. undercover agents working in Miami, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Hong Kong and New York infiltrated the loosely knit ring by portraying themselves as willing smugglers of any contraband, Goldman said.

``We basically took control of their smuggling ring,'' he said.

The smuggled passengers, mostly women from China's Fujian province, paid $50,000 and up for passage to New York City on a series of flights that often went through Hong Kong, Vietnam or Laos to Europe and then to various Caribbean islands and into the United States via Miami, Goldman said.

They traveled in small groups of three or four, posing as Japanese tourists.

The Caribbean route apparently was chosen for its proximity to Miami, a gateway into the United States, although the Chinese were headed to New York City, Goldman said.

Many Chinese immigrants borrow money from friends and relatives to make a down payment, then find jobs in New York's large Chinese immigrant community and work for years as virtual slaves to repay their passage, Goldman said.

Although smugglers shepherd illegal immigrants into Florida from numerous nations, the INS targeted those who smuggled Chinese citizens because of the extraordinarily high fees, and the kidnappings and beatings meted out to those who are unable to repay the debt, Goldman said.

``It's a high-profit industry,'' he said. ``If you don't pay, there's a problem.''

The recent deaths of illegal Chinese immigrants who suffocated in shipboard containers and closed trucks also ''highlighted the urgency of ending operations involving the inhumane treatment of people,'' Goldman said.

The United States issues few tourist visas to Chinese citizens, so Japanese passports were used because they would arouse less suspicion because most Japanese do not need visas to enter as tourists, he said.

Many of those brought in by the smugglers have applied for political asylum, he said.

-- K (infosurf@yahoo.com), August 05, 2000

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