by way of Jyothi Kanics---Global Survival Network (bfouts@Radix.Net)
Fri, 23 Oct 1998 14:23:29 -0700 (PDT)
Chinese Girl Smuggled Into Country Is Missing
By Brooke A. Masters and Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 23, 1998; Page C01
A Chinese girl who was caught being smuggled into the country and was
sent to a Fairfax County foster home disappeared this week after
stepping off a school bus, police said yesterday.
Officials say one theory is that she could have been abducted by the
same group that brought her from Asia, but they said it also was
possible that she had run away or that she had left with a relative.
FBI and immigration agents yesterday joined Fairfax police in looking
for Wang Yuanxia. Officials said she is 12 years old, but her foster
parents estimated her age as 14 or 15.
Wang was one of several Chinese nationals who entered the United States
illegally at Dulles International Airport in the past six months,
authorities said. In some of those cases, officials think Asian
smugglers known as "snakeheads" were involved -- individuals who
deliver illegal immigrants to restaurants or brothels where they are
held in virtual servitude to pay off huge smuggling fees.
Law enforcement officials said several of the Dulles cases involved
high-quality forged Japanese or Thai passports and may be related.
Wang, however, used a real Thai passport that had been altered, so her
case appears to be different. Why she was smuggled here remained a
mystery, officials said.
In an interview yesterday, her foster father, who asked that the
family's name not be published because Wang's abductors could be at
large, described the girl's disappearance as a "nightmare."
Incha, as the family knew her, had lived in their Lincolnia area home
for six weeks. "I had been warned that the Chinese mafia might be
looking for her," the foster father said.
Klaharn Chaichana, a Thai citizen, brought Wang to Northern Virginia on
a United Airlines flight from Paris on Aug. 25. He told immigration
officials at the airport that the child was "his niece and a manager in
the silk area of his business," according to documents filed in U.S.
District Court in Alexandria.
However, the girl was unable to communicate with two Thai translators
at the airport, according to authorities. Eventually, officials
summoned a Chinese translator and Wang said she was from Fuzhou, the
capital of Fujian province in southern China, which INS officials
consider a major source of human smuggling. Wang said that she had met
Klaharn seven days earlier and that her parents had paid to have her
brought to America, according to court records and law enforcement
A law enforcement official close to the case said it appeared that
Wang's parents had paid a significant amount of money. "It doesn't look
like a slavery case or an extortion case," the official said.
Klaharn was arrested and he subsequently pleaded guilty to aiding and
abetting the use of an altered passport. He remains in custody. Klaharn
told federal officials that a man named Chan Chai had given him airline
tickets to Brussels and money for train and plane tickets from there to
Paris and the United States. He said he met Wang in Bangkok, traveled
with her and was supposed to deliver her to the Holiday Inn at 15th
Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW in the District, according to court
Fairfax police said that they were looking into possible connections
between Wang's abduction and her illegal entry. "But we have nothing to
confirm that there's a relationship," police spokesman Warren
Klaharn is the fourth person arrested in less than six months for
attempting to bring in Chinese nationals, according to federal court
records. In one other case, one of the people being smuggled was
younger than 18.
In September, an Alexandria Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge
ordered Wang into foster care until officials decided what to do with
her. She could be deported but also could be permitted to stay in U.S.
foster care, said her attorney, Ken Labowitz.
Wang told her foster parents she had argued with her parents in China
after they withdrew her from school. This summer, her parents told
their only child that she would be going to America to live with an
On Sept. 8, Virginia social workers contacted the foster family, which
has cared for three other children, and they agreed to take Wang. The
girl spoke no English, so the foster mother downloaded a phonetic list
of Chinese words and phrases from the Internet.
For the first three weeks, Wang stayed with a Chinese-speaking
babysitter during the day. At night, she chopped vegetables and shared
meals with her new family. She often watched an Asian cable television
"She's very smart, very quick," said her foster mother. Wang told her
foster parents she was 12, but they suspected she is two to three years
older. She is 5-foot-6 and weighs 118 pounds.
Wang enrolled at Holmes Middle School on Sept. 28 and was the only
Mandarin-speaking student; one teacher who also knew Mandarin would
check on her.
Wang and one of her foster sisters typically returned home on a bus
about 3:10 p.m. But on Wednesday, Wang took the bus home alone. She was
not at home when a cab arrived at 3:30 p.m. to take her to a scheduled
doctor's appointment, her foster parents said.
Although the foster parents said Wang seemed to like her new family,
they couldn't tell if she might be inclined to run away.
"Because of the language barrier, we didn't know exactly how she felt
inside," her foster mother said. "She couldn't confide in us."
The girl's attorney, Labowitz, said he is concerned.
"She had no other place to go and she is a long way from home with no
possible way to get back," he said. "My fear is we will never know what
happened to this child. It's very chilling."
Staff writer Sylvia Moreno contributed to this report.
© Copyright The Washington Post Company
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