New/US: Smuggled Into Debt Illegal Chinese Immigrants Struggle to Pay Off Debts

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Subject: New/US: Smuggled Into Debt Illegal Chinese Immigrants Struggle to Pay Off Debts
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Fri Oct 08 1999 - 11:08:13 EDT


Smuggled Into Debt
Illegal Chinese Immigrants Struggle to Pay Off Debts
By Deborah Amos
ABC News, October 6, 1999

NEW YORK, Oct. 6 — From the moment they arrive, they begin making payments
on their smuggling bills.

They live wherever they can, in filthy buildings, crammed into tiny rooms.
It takes years to pay back the debts.

“If you’re talking about $40,000 with 30 percent interest rate you’re
talking about a long, long time,” says Professor Peter Kwong, author of
>Forbidden Workers.

Back-Alley Labor Market

Kwong’s research on illegal Chinese immigrants and the smugglers — known as
the “snake heads” — who bring them to places like New York City rely on a
back-alley job market that is masked from view by the bustle of the
Chinatown streets.

“Employers from all over the East Coast will call these agencies and say I
need a chef, I need somebody, a delivery boy or whatever,” says Kwong.

Unscrupulous American employers know illegal immigrants will not complain
about wages that are $3 to $4 an hour — working seven days a week.

Limited Options, Harsh Consequences

Some women who have babies in these conditions are forced to send the
infants to China to be raised by relatives rather than struggle to overcome
the increased debt the child would bring.

Sarah Mak-Lee is the only social worker at the Chinatown Clinic of St.
Vincent’s Hospital. She often helps Chinese women get prenatal medical
assistance through Medicare. She witnesses the pain these women endure when
they are forced to send their babies to China.

“They can’t afford child care and [they] have no support system,” says
Mak-Lee. “They cannot ask someone to help care for them. That’s why they
have to send the babies to China.”

Many immigrants also fear reprisals from the smugglers who collect the loan
payments that are then sent back to China.

What happens if they don’t pay? “They don’t want to answer that question,”
Kwong says.

Despite Ordeal, Immigration Continues

In many cases, the answer has been violence: Illegal immigrants who do not
pay have been brutally beaten, kidnapped and held for ransom until their
family pays up. In some cases, they have been murdered.

Immigrants do call home and tell their families what they are facing. But
it doesn’t stop others from coming here.

“Relatives don’t believe it,” Kwong says. “‘You’re there, enjoying
paradise, you don’t want to help us.’”

In a tiny room, in a crowded apartment, one man, smuggled here four years
ago, says he has almost paid off his debt. “The only thing… I really miss
my home,” Kwong translated.

But even out of debt, he remains an illegal with no rights or benefits in
the United States.

It is a typical story that will be repeated as long as there are Chinese
immigrants willing to risk everything to get here — and U.S. employers who
can hire them.

Easier Entrance to Canada U.S. Immigration officials believe Canada is a
favored backdoor for illegal immigrants bound for the United States.

First, Chinese smugglers recruit passengers in China’s Fujian Province.
Once in Canada, the immigrants learn what to say to get due process, which
often takes more than a year, instead of facing immediate deportation in
the United States.

While they wait for their hearings, many are freed from detention. And once
released, more than half disappear. American officials say many travel
across Canada and then southward to enter the United States.

U.S. officials are urging Canada to toughen up their border patrols and
immigration process to prevent and discourage thousands of Chinese
immigrants from illegally entering the States.

[Editor's note: Visit ABCNEWS' website to see real audio clips of Chinatown
interviews and a sidebar on immigrants access to the U.S. through Canada.

http://www.abcnews.go.com/onair/CloserLook/wnt_991006_chineseimmigrants_feat
ure.html#sidebar]

Melanie Orhant
morhant@igc.org
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