Chinese Migrants Are Taking a Dangerous Route to US

They're fleeing repression, declining economy in homeland
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 30, 2023 1:32 PM CDT
Chinese Migrants Are Taking a Dangerous Route to US
A couple from China adjust their masks as they wait to board a bus to the airport after crossing the border and being dropped off by Border Patrol agents at a transit center Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023, in San Diego.   (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Deng Guangsen, 28, is part of a major influx of Chinese migration to the United States on a relatively new and perilous route that has become increasingly popular with the help of social media. Deng spent two months traveling to San Diego from the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, through seven countries on plane, bus, and foot, including traversing Panama's dangerous Darién Gap jungles, the AP reports. Chinese people were the fourth-highest nationality, after Venezuelans, Ecuadorians, and Haitians, crossing the Darién Gap during the first nine months of this year, according to Panamanian immigration authorities.

Chinese asylum-seekers who spoke to the AP, as well as observers, say they are seeking to escape an increasingly repressive political climate and bleak economic prospects. "I have no brother, no sister. I have nobody," Deng said after Border Patrol agents left him at a transit station in San Diego. The pandemic and China's COVID-19 policies, which included tight border controls, temporarily stemmed the exodus that rose dramatically in 2018 when President Xi Jinping amended the constitution to scrap the presidential term limit. Now emigration has resumed, with China's economy struggling to rebound and youth unemployment high.

"This wave of emigration reflects despair toward China," says Cai Xia, editor-in-chief of the online commentary site of Yibao and a former professor at the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. "They've lost hope for the future of the country," says Cai, who now lives in the US. "You see among them the educated and the uneducated, white-collar workers, as well as small business owners, and those from well-off families." Those who can't get a visa are finding other ways to flee the world's most populous nation. Many are showing up at the US-Mexico border to seek asylum. The Border Patrol made 22,187 arrests of Chinese for crossing the border illegally from Mexico from January through September, nearly 13 times the same period in 2022.

story continues below

Arrests peaked at 4,010 in September, up 70% from August. The vast majority were single adults. The popular route to the US is through Ecuador, which has no visa requirements for Chinese nationals. Translation apps allow migrants to navigate through Central America on their own, even if they don't speak Spanish or English. The journey can cost thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, paid for with family savings or even online loans. It's markedly different from the days when Chinese nationals paid smugglers, known as snakeheads, and traveled in groups. Many migrants are released with court dates in cities nearest their final destination in a bottlenecked system that takes years to decide cases.

(More US-Mexico border stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.