The 23 Chinese nationals caught near a tunnel at the Mexico-California line over the weekend were only the latest of hundreds of thousands from China who have sneaked into the US from south of the border in the past century or more, an expert says.
Elliott Young, a history professor at Lewis & Clark College and author of a book on the history of Chinese migration to the United States, “Alien Nation,” said the influx of illegals began in the late 19th century.
In 1882, the US passed a law that banned Chinese labor migration for six decades — which many migrants ignored as they used every conceivable means to get into the US.
“There have been lots of historical cases of Chinese people being brought into the United States illegally on ships, in railroad coaches, hidden in cars, through tunnels, on airplanes — every imaginable way that humans can think of to cross the border,” Young told the Voice of America in an interview.
“The Chinese were among the first to invent these ways of evading border control.”
In the latest incident, the Chinese nationals were caught along with seven Mexican nationals by US customs officers after they passed through a 3-mile-long tunnel that began in Tijuana and ended near San Diego.
Officials said that the tunnels are usually used for drug smuggling, but do double duty as a route for human trafficking.
The Washington, DC-based Migration Policy Institute estimated in 2016 that there were roughly 210,000 unauthorized Chinese nationals in the US.
The San Diego Union-Tribune quoted a US border patrol spokeswoman as saying smugglers who organize the crossings charge Chinese migrants $50,000 to $70,000 a person.
Young said not many of the Chinese migrants can pay that much up-front.
“Usually they have to make some kind of down payment of a few thousand dollars and then have to work off their debt in the United States by working in a business,” he said.
The State Department limited the number of visa applications from China to 25,620 — a number likely to shrink under President Trump’s tough new immigration policies.
“It means that because our immigration restrictions are making it virtually impossible for people to legally migrate, they are forced to go through these other clandestine, illegal routes,” Young said.