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Job crisis amid a boom fuels smuggling Surging economy leaves many behind
Tuesday, April 24, 2001
By VANESSA HO SPECIAL TO THE POST-INTELLIGENCER
Chinese people-smuggling, already a multimillion-dollar business that spans 30 countries from Croatia to Pakistan, is a growth industry.
Although China is experiencing booming economic expansion, it's facing a daunting unemployment crisis: Already, more than 40 million people are unemployed, mostly shed from bloated, state-run enterprises undergoing market reforms.
China's entry into the World Trade Organization will likely aggravate the problem. With lower tariffs and higher import quotas, 40 million farmers are expected to lose their jobs in the next decade, further fueling the desire to seek fortune abroad.
Corruption is still rampant, despite a crackdown last year. And China blames the "lax" asylum policies of Western countries, although the United States granted asylum to less than 25 percent of Chinese claims last year.
"Worldwide, it's a huge problem," said Jim Chaparro, director of the anti-smuggling unit for the Immigration and Naturalization Service. "This is a horrendously dangerous problem. These people essentially traffic in human misery."
Last year, an estimated 50,000 Chinese -- most from Fujian province -- sneaked into America. One in 10 ended up in INS custody.
Snakeheads hit the West Coast particularly hard. In the last three years, the number of illegal Chinese immigrants detained at Los Angeles International Airport skyrocketed. Last year, 2,343 were stopped at the airport.
America got its first glimpse of Chinese smuggling in 1983, when the Golden Venture, crammed with 286 immigrants, ran aground off New York. Eight years later -- despite federal task forces, harsher penalties, Coast Guard operations, international cooperation and a $14 million INS intelligence-gathering program -- people-smuggling still vexes America.
More than 350 people arrived in containers at ports from Long Beach to Vancouver, B.C., in roughly the last two years. And the West Coast is bracing for more: Sixty-two Chinese immigrants were found in containers earlier this month.
"The real question is why, given the fact that we have so many government agencies working on this, (smuggling) still persists," said Paul Smith, editor of the book "Human Smuggling: Chinese Migrant Trafficking and the Challenge to America's Immigration Tradition."
"One thing that has to happen is stricter labor enforcement and making sure employers don't hire these people," he said. "People would not be smuggled here if there were no jobs here."
People in the Fujian town of Langqi agree. From beauty shops to rice fields, many people said the deaths in January 2000 of three locals smuggled onto a container ship bound for Seattle had little impact on the overwhelming desire to skip town and find jobs. Nor did the deaths in England of 58 stowaways from nearby cities last summer. The deaths were exceptions, they say, and the perils understood.
"They know it will be dangerous, but they receive a promise that the trip will be successful," said Jiang Dian Jian, a cheery 25-year-old factory manager who likes Michael Jackson and Bulaiteni Sipiersi -- pinyin for Brittany Spears.
"Also, a lot of other townfellows have successfully arrived in America."
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