A recent bust of a scheme to fly Chinese illegal immigrants into the region is the latest in what a top immigration agent described as an upswing in attempts to smuggle Chinese citizens into Houston.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are deporting five Chinese citizens after the interception of a private plane that flew this month to Wharton from the Texas-Mexico border loaded with the immigrants.
“We’re seeing an increase in the smuggling of Chinese nationals into and through Houston in the past six months,” said Robert Rutt, who heads ICE criminal investigations in the Houston area.
Rutt noted that in September, U.S. Border Patrol agents intercepted 50 illegal immigrants packed inside an 18-wheeler at a South Texas highway checkpoint north of Harlingen, including 23 Chinese citizens headed to Houston.
In October, ICE agents, Border Patrol and state troopers rounded up 54 illegal immigrants in the Mission area, including 40 from China.
Rutt said it’s not clear what’s driving the increase in Chinese immigration but notes historically it has “ebbed and flowed.”
By air and land
Human smuggling organizations have charged Chinese and other Asians immigrants fees of up to $25,000 to be smuggled into the U.S., usually by flying them to Latin America and then transporting them overland to the Texas-Mexico border.
The local increase mirrors a nationwide jump in the unauthorized Chinese population this decade, according to a Department of Homeland Security analysis released in September of the nation’s 11.8 million undocumented residents.
Illegal immigrants from China increased 49 percent from 2000 to 2007, and DHS now estimates there are 290,000 residing in the U.S.