The numbers

What began as a trickle of Chinese nationals coming across the U.S.-Mexico border illegally a few years ago has now surged to historic levels, raising all kinds of alarm bells.  The numbers are shocking.

U.S. Border Patrol detained more than 37,000 Chinese nationals along the southern border in 2023, nearly ten times more than 2022.  It was double the number of Chinese who came in the entire previous decade.  In December 2022, Border agents intercepted 900 Chinese nationals.  The same period a year later?  A staggering 6,000.  What will happen this year?  Well, if U.S. government data is any indication, the numbers will keep climbing.  Some 22,000 Chinese have already streamed into the United States illegally in the last five months, eclipsing all four fiscal years combined under the Trump administration. 

How are Chinese migrants coming in? 

For the most part, those flooding across the U.S.-Mexico border are middle-class Chinese men or married couples, having arrived by plane into South America - usually Colombia or Ecuador, the latter one of the few Latin-American countries that allow Chinese nationals visa-free entry.  From here, they start the long and dangerous journey north that will take them first through Panama’s Darien Gap, a 200-square-mile stretch of dense jungle controlled by drug cartels and rife with criminals that is the only overland route into Central America and Mexico.  Everyone passing through here must pay the cartels for the privilege - anywhere from $350 to thousands of dollars for those with means to pay.  They will go through a gauntlet of migrant processing centers, first in Panama and on up from there.  Eventually they will pass through Mexico and through the U.S. southern border.

Chinese migrants rarely come in alone but do so in large groups filled with other aspiring Chinese immigrants. The vast majority of those making the trek were self-employed small businesses owners back home who saved enough money and had the wherewithal to make the expensive trip and to cover the costs involved but who did not qualify for legal entry via student visas or the coveted H1-B visas used by U.S. businesses for decades to bring in highly skilled foreign workers. Out of all the Chinese nationals crossing into the United States, very few include families with children.

Why are Chinese nationals entering the U.S. illegally?

Biden’s Open Door policy is a strong pull, and from interviews with Chinese migrants, they want to get into the United States quickly before that window of opportunity closes, knowing that policies can be reversed or tightened at any time.  Another fear for them is that China could suddenly prevent them from leaving the country altogether, or delay it.  When asked why they decided to leave their homes and take the risks inherent in this dangerous journey to America, Chinese migrants point to China’s floundering economy, the opportunity to build a better, freer life in the United States, the emotional trauma and devastating economic impact of China’s draconian Covid lockdowns, which forced them out of business and decimated their ability to make a decent living.  Others say they want to emigrate simply to live out the American dream.  They come in illegally because they feel legal means are largely closed to them and time is not on their side.

Causes for deep concern

Before the Chinese Communist Party under Xi Jinping adopted the most sophisticated digital citizen tracking system on the planet that included the use of facial recognition and a genetics logging system as well as a draconian digital credit score for every citizen, one could argue that any Chinese citizen trying to leave the country had a fairly reasonable chance of emigrating.  But now, we can safely shelve that utopian ideal.  

Though China boasts more than 1.4 billion citizens, the internal digital network at the CCP’s disposal means that no Chinese national - or foreigner, for that matter - leaves or enters China, or moves around within China, without the Communist government monitoring and tracking their every move. 

They know what groceries and other commodities their citizens buy, from whom they buy it and for what amount.  The government knows where every person banks, where their children go to school, and if and when citizens visit family or friends.  They know the exact routes their people take on roadways, what trains they board and for where, and what airports they travel in and out of.  China’s digital credit score system ensures that China’s leadership and government minders know every intimate detail, however insignificant, of their citizenry whether those individuals live in large, crowded cities or in small, rural villages.  Every purchase and transaction, every movement, is accounted for and tracked.  We must ask, then, what does China gain from allowing tens of thousands of its own citizens to permanently emigrate to America? 

One could chalk it up to simple practicality: With a such a huge population, allowing thousands of its citizens to emigrate means fewer mouths for the Chinese government to feed and support in a myriad of other ways at a time when many economists warn that China’s once-hot economy is not just cooling but is set for a jolting drop in GDP output. 

The gravest concern, of course, is the risk to our national security.  In June 2017, China enacted the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Intelligence Act.  This law forces any Chinese citizen living within China or elsewhere in the world to spy for China in the capacity and form that the CCP intel apparatus directs them to and for the length of time they are told.

This gets to the stark reality why very few families are emigrating.  Some experts point to China’s unwritten policy of all but forbidding intact families to move out of the country.  This works in the government’s favor because, as with other totalitarian regimes, separating families means that the Chinese government can leverage a great deal of power over those family members who emigrated and coerce them to still think, say, and act as directed after settling abroad, by threatening punishments and reprisals on children or other family members they left behind in China.

Since no Chinese citizen is allowed to board an international-bound flight unless they are highly compliant to the CCP in every facet of life (e.g. a high digital credit score), which citizens are given government clearance to leave?  Do some Chinese citizens comply and act the dutiful citizen for a time precisely because it is their ticket to freedom?  No doubt.  But, once abroad, the Chinese government has enough spies embedded throughout Western nations to track Chinese emigres for the remainder of their lives.  As already stated, giving free rein for some of its wealthy and entrepreneurial middle-class to emigrate means that the CCP has more eyes, ears and feet on the ground to spy for China at the drop of a hat.

The Chinese government is not only allowing certain citizens to emigrate to the United States, they are facilitating it de facto by allowing Chinese-owned social media apps and websites to proliferate that give step-by-step details to prospective emigres of how to get into the United States illegally - from where to stay, what routes to take, various costs, and how to avoid detection once they arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border.  

Any China watcher knows that under Xi Jinping not a single social-media app is available to the Chinese populace without the government fully vetting them. If the apps don't line up with CCP standards, they are quickly removed and never see the light of day.

What can be done?

The American First Policy Institute (AFPI) pointed out in an article earlier this year that under President Biden, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security shifted how it deals with Chinese nationals apprehended at the border.  Starting in April 2023, agents began reducing the number of required questions they asked from 40 to a mere handful, in what the AFPI called “a drastic reduction in vetting.”

Also, the AFPI raised red flags, noting that “Chinese nationals realize that the CCP refuses to take back its citizens if the U.S. orders them removed,” quoting the NYT, which said, “Of the 1.3 million people in the United States with final orders to be deported, about 100,000 are Chinese.”  Yet, the Biden Administration has not put the necessary pressure on Xi Jinping to compel him to change China’s policy and, worse, accepts the CCP’s outlandish claims that all the Chinese nationals here illegally are not actually Chinese citizens.  

Anyone who knows anything about China understands how specious this position is because, as the AFPI points out, the CCP catalogs the genetic information of every citizen in a Resident Identity Portal (the Huji/ Hukou system) for every household,” enabling them to keep track of China’s entire populace.

A recent article by NBC News laid out the paltry efforts the Biden Administration employs to return illegal Chinese nationals.  “Although the U.S. is able to deport some people to China every year… it has to resort to expensive and logistically challenging ‘Special High-Risk Charter’ flights, sometimes via South Korea.” 

To illustrate what’s going on, the U.S. deported only 288 people to China last fiscal year.  High-level talks between the U.S. and China currently underway aimed at increasing the number of Chinese nationals deported from the United States have stalled. 

What about those who insist that the immigrants are fleeing political and religious persecution and, thus, qualify for asylum here?  Evidence clearly shows that those coming across do not fit the criteria. First of all, those who fall into those categories are given such an abysmally low digital credit score and are considered enemies of the state that they would never be allowed to leave China openly.  Their only recourse would be to get smuggled out at great cost to themselves and any who aid their escape.

Furthermore, as the AFPI points out brilliantly, “Chinese nationals are not showing up at legal ports of entry to claim asylum. Instead, they are being apprehended by Border Patrol between ports of entry, risking a much more difficult journey and the possibility of being turned away.  With a legitimate asylum claim, it does not make sense to pick this route.” 

This method of infiltration and influence through mass immigration over time has worked well in the past for Arab/Muslim immigrants who have largely settled for generations in particular American cities, urban areas and suburbs (e.g. Dearborn, Michigan; Broadview and Burbank, IL) and now use their newfound clout to sway local and federal elections, influence politicians and move popular culture to align with their views.

What happens next and which path we go down as a nation depends entirely on decisions and policies undertaken this year.  Time is running out.

Written by Rebecca Clark
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