There has been a record number of Chinese nationals crossing the United States-Mexico border to escape China’s political repression and seek asylum in America.
Chinese migrants: According to Panamanian immigration authorities, Chinese nationals are now the fourth-highest nationality, after Venezuelans, Ecuadorians and Haitians, crossing the dangerous Darién Gap this year.
In the first nine months of this year, immigration authorities registered 15,567 Chinese citizens crossing the Darién jungle, a nearly eight-fold increase from the 2,005 recorded nationals in 2022. From January to September, the Border Patrol reportedly arrested 22,187 Chinese people for illegal border crossings, with the numbers peaking at 4,010 in September.
About the perilous journey: Chinese people are reportedly traveling through Ecuador, where there are no visa requirements, and then making the journey northward through Central America to reach the U.S. border.
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There are video platforms and messaging apps that provide information and guidance for the costly journey known as “zouxian” or walk the line, which is often financed through family savings or online loans. The step-by-step guides inform migrants on what to bring, where to stay, how to survive the jungle, how much to bribe police in different nations and what to do when encountering immigration officers.
Why are people leaving China?: Many of the migrants are leaving China due to a lack of economic opportunities and a desire for greater freedom. Some nationals are also escaping harassment and persecution by Chinese authorities. Chinese migration increased in 2018 after President Xi Jinping removed the nation’s presidential term limit. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, China has struggled to restore its economy, and its youth unemployment rate remains high.
“This wave of emigration reflects despair toward China,” Cai Xia, editor-in-chief of the online commentary site Yibao, told the Associated Press. “They’ve lost hope for the future of the country. You see among them the educated and the uneducated, white-collar workers as well as small business owners, and those from well-off families."
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Seeking asylum: Some migrants who enter the U.S. wait for agents to pick them up, turning themselves in to U.S. authorities to then make asylum claims. Many of them are detained and released with court dates in cities closest to their intended destinations. However, the overall asylum process can take years to complete.
Global trend of mass migration: The illegal border crossings reflect a global trend of mass migration, with an unprecedented number of migrants coming to the U.S. from countries beyond Mexico and Ecuador. There are 2 million people from around the world who were arrested for illegal border crossing at the end of the 2023 fiscal year.
According to data released last month by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, there have also been around 42,000 Indian migrants who crossed the southern border illegally from October to September, more than double the previous fiscal year.
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