Book Review of "Smuggled Chinese" by Ko-Lin Chin

By Wayne Lutton
Volume 11, Number 3 (Spring 2001)
Issue theme: "George W. Bush, last Republican president? And does it matter?"

According to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), over 655,000 Chinese legally enter the United States every year. Many come on student or worker visas. No one knows how many remain, either by staying on after their temporary visas expire, or by changing their status. And no one knows how many more Chinese are being smuggled into the U.S. annually.

Ko-lin Chin, a professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University-Newark, has written a detailed account of how Chinese are illegally brought to the U.S. and what happens to them once they arrive. Smuggled Chinese: Clandestine Immigration to the United States is based on extensive primary research, including interviews with approximately 300 Chinese illegal aliens residing here. Readers of The Social Contract will be interested in what Professor Chin reveals about flaws in our immigration policies - especially abuse of claims for asylum - and our lax law enforcement.

In the first part of his study, Professor Chin describes how the alien smuggling networks operate. Smuggled Chinese: Clandestine Immigration to the United States

by Ko-lin Chin

Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press

221 pages, $22.95According to Chin most of the Chinese illegals coming to the U.S. are from the northeast coastal area of Fuzhov, a part of the Fujian Province. Among the Chinese, the United States is known as "Meiguo" ("Beautiful Country"). The decision to go to the U.S. is rarely an individual decision. The Chinese view it as important to have a family member in the U.S., as it confers status, additional respect, and economic gain for those left behind thanks to the remittances sent back to China (a new house can be purchased in Fujian for $12,000). Smuggling organizations charge an average of $30,000 to deliver a person to the U.S. This is regarded as a fair price to pay for the potential advantage. A down payment of ten to twenty percent is made through the local recruiter known as "little snakehead." When an individual finally arrives in the U.S., he or she is detained in a "safe house" and a call is placed to China. Generally, family and friends come up with the balance due the smugglers within eleven days.

An extensive smuggling network routes Chinese illegals through such places as Bangkok, Tokyo, and air hubs in Germany. Others travel by boat to Belize, Bolivia, Peru, and Panama, and then on to Mexico. Canada is another major transit point. From Mexico or Canada, they simply walk into the U.S.

The Chinese illegals interviewed by Professor Chin make it clear that the U.S. is an "Open Gate." There are few obstacles to entry. The overland route via Mexico or Canada is the most reliable way to enter. The INS intercepted only eleven percent of those who crossed into the U.S. from Mexico or Canada, and they were not sent home. The INS lacks space to detain more than a few people. The threat of detention is no deterrent. One male from Tingjiang related his experience after being caught by the INS: "While we were confined at a detention center, we ate and lived well. We were provided with fresh milk, vegetables, and fruits. We had separate beds, and the rooms had wall-to-wall carpeting. They treated us well. They were not discriminative. You can say that the detention center was like a hotel." Chin confirms that,

My data strongly suggests that once these immigrants were on a plane bound for the United States, they could count on staying in the country. Many of them who had been coached by their snakeheads managed to exploit lax U.S. travel regulations and sought political asylum fraudulently. The ease of international travel, coupled with the snakeheads' ability to bribe airport and immigration officials in almost all of the transit countries, enabled these Chinese illegals to travel relatively freely.

The final destination for most illegal Chinese is the New York City area, with others remaining in California. They are mainly employed in food, garment (over six hundred garment factories operate in NYC's Chinatown), and construction businesses. Wages and working conditions are poor by U.S. standards, but very high compared with what they might earn even in professional positions back in China. Former farmers from Fujian reported that they earned $28 a year at home. Teacher's said they were paid $12 a month. Life may be dreary and dangerous for those involved in the underground economy, but all told, a day's wages in the U.S. is often the equivalent of half a year's salary in China. The opportunity to earn vastly better wages is the major incentive for migrating to the U.S.

In his concluding section, "Stemming the Tide," Professor Chin makes some sensible recommendations. Chief among these are prompt deportation of illegals and reforming asylum laws to prevent abuses. The INS and the Labor Department should be given additional resources to enforce employer sanctions and labor standards. If decisive action is not taken, Professor Chin warns that the "Chinese human trade has the potential to grow even worse."

[Here follows an extensive quote from Douglas Massey's Foreword to Smuggled Chinese.]

The Challenge of Chinese Immigration

The current era of mass migration constitutes a sharp break with the past. No longer dominated by outflows from Europe to a handful of former colonies, immigration is now truly a global phenomenon.

Contemporary international migration originates in the social, economic, political, and cultural transformations that accompany the penetration of markets into non-market or pre-market societies. In the context of a globalizing economy, the entry of markets into peripheral regions disrupts existing social and economic arrangements and brings about the displacement of people from customary livelihoods, creating mobile populations of workers who actively search for new ways of earning income, managing risk, and acquiring capital. International migration does not stem from a lack of economic development, but from development itself.

While the early phases of economic development in poor nations promote emigration, post-industrial transformations in wealthy nations yield a bifurcation of labor markets...those in the secondary labor market offer low pay, little stability, and few opportunities, thus repelling natives and generating a structural demand for immigrants. This process of labor market bifurcation is most acute in global cities such as Los Angeles and New York, where a concentration of managerial, administrative, and technical expertise leads to a concentration of wealth and a strong ancillary demand for low-wage services.

...The same processes of economic globalization that create mobile populations in developing regions and generate a demand for their services in global cities also create links of transportation, communications, politics, and culture to make the international movement of people cheap and easy.

However an immigration stream begins, it displays a strong tendency to continue because of the growth and elaboration of migrant networks. The concentration of immigrants in certain destination areas creates a "family and friends" effect that channels later cohorts of immigrants to the same places and facilitates their arrival and incorporation. If enough migrants arrive under the right conditions, an enclave economy may form, which further augments the specialized demand for immigrant workers.

The spread of migratory behavior within sending communities sets off ancillary structural changes, shifting distributions of income and land and modifying local cultures in ways that promote additional out-migration. Over time, the process of network expansion tends to become self-perpetuating because each act of migration causes social and economic changes that promote additional international movement...None of the conditions known to play a role in initiating migratory flows - wage differentials, market failures, segmentation of labor markets, the globalization of the economy - is likely to moderate anytime soon; and once begun, the forces that perpetuate international movement - social network formation, the emergence of global transportation and communication infrastructures, and other processes of cumulative causation - ensure that it will continue into the foreseeable future.

Although migratory flows to the United States are now largest for countries in Latin America, the latent potential for immigration is greatest in Asia, where the forces that initiate and sustain international migration have only begun to operate. The potential for Chinese immigration alone is enormous. Even a small rate of emigration, when applied to a population of more than a billion people, can be expected to produce a flow of immigrants dwarfing that now observed from Mexico...China's rapid growth and headlong movement into the global market contain seeds of an enormous future migration. Social networks linking China and developed nations overseas are now being formed and in the future will serve as the basis for an even larger movement of population. Immigration from China and other populous, rapidly developing nations in Asia has an unrecognized latent potential to transform world migration flows and to shape the racial and ethnic composition of developed nations in the next century. No topic could be more important as we move into the new millennium.

- Douglas S. Massey, Professor of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, from his Foreword to Smuggled Chinese: Clandestine Immigration to the United States by Ko-Lin Chin.

About the author

Wayne Lutton. Ph.D. is editor of The Social Contract.