The influx of Chinese immigrants seeking entry into the U.S. through Mexico has reached its highest levels in a decade, contributing to a surge in migrants settling in California.
The numbers: According to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), there have been approximately 15,700 Chinese migrant encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border in just the first few months of fiscal year 2024. The figure already surpassed the total encounters — around 14,600 — involving Chinese nationals who attempted to cross the border in the previous fiscal year.
Over 24,000 Chinese citizens were apprehended crossing into the U.S. from Mexico in the previous fiscal year. This represents a 7,000% increase from 2021 — which saw only 323 crossings — and exceeds the total for the entire previous decade combined.
Where they settle: California has reportedly become the primary destination for these migrants, registering a 33% increase in Chinese population between 2010 and 2020. As of last year, about 24% of California's population is Chinese, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
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The path they travel: China's visa-free access to Ecuador makes it the starting point for many Chinese migrants seeking to reach the U.S. via Panama's Darién Gap. From Ecuador, they venture to Necoclí, a Colombian town on the Caribbean coast. Desperate for passage, some migrants reportedly shell out up to $35,000 to smugglers who promise them help in navigating the treacherous terrain so they can reach the U.S. border.
Why they migrate: The Migration Policy Institute attributed the surge in Chinese immigration to various factors, including economic conditions and the desire to escape poverty. These factors are compounded by aspirations for religious and cultural freedom. Chinese asylum seekers interviewed by the Associated Press cited a worsening political climate and bleak economic prospects as reasons for their perilous journey.
Some migrants choose to surrender at the border, presenting themselves to CBP agents and expressing their intention to seek asylum. They are then detained and processed, which can involve interviews, background checks and physical examinations. The entire process could take years.
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Implications and response: In response to the surge, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has implemented stringent measures, including the deployment of the National Guard and controversial border fortifications. This has faced opposition from the Biden administration and critics who deem them as dangerous and cruel. The Supreme Court has ruled to temporarily remove the barriers erected by Texas, pending further court proceedings.
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