Chinese Migrants Use Social Media Tips on Trek to US-Mexico Border
Reuters, April 29, 2023
The difficulty of obtaining U.S. visas and the economic aftershocks of China’s COVID lockdowns have led to a sharp increase in Chinese nationals presenting at the U.S.-Mexico border. Some of those arrivals have learned from social media websites and applications about how to make the long and dangerous journey, migrants, immigration experts, attorneys and current and former U.S. officials, told Reuters.
“Entering the United States at the southern border is an expensive and risky proposition. But if you have personal or economic reasons to do so, then it is a route is available to you,” said Erik Finch, director of immigration strategy at the Seattle, Washington-based legal tech startup Boundless Immigration and a former State Department official with experience in both China and Mexico. “And I think the fact that you’re seeing an increasing number of people utilize that is a product of the general trend and also the fact that other routes have become even more impossible.”
Over the course of three weeks photographing and reporting from a remote border stretch in southeastern Texas, Reuters witnessed hundreds of Chinese migrants crossing into the United States and interviewed more than two dozen in Mandarin.
All of those interviewed said they got the idea to take the land route to the United States on social media and drew on influencers, private groups and comments to plan their trips.
About half said they had been small business owners in China, running online stores, a sheep farm and a movie production company.
Some wore crosses and carried Chinese-language bibles, saying they were Christians who felt they could not freely practice their religion at home. China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, but in recent years critics, including the U.S. government, say Beijing has tightened restrictions on religions seen as a challenge to the authority of the ruling Communist party.
One migrant who asked after speaking with Reuters that their face not be shown said his route took them to Hong Kong, Thailand, Turkey before getting to Ecuador.
The migrant said they were relieved when they arrived in the U.S.
“I feel relaxed. And I can breathe more comfortably. It’s rare. The people here, the police here, are very kind. And that’s the America in my head. That’s it. It’s good. It’s great,” the migrant said.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington said in an email that the government opposes illegal migration, which “is an international issue that requires cooperation between countries,” but did not respond to a request for comment on the issue of religious freedom.
Apprehensions of Chinese nationals at the U.S.-Mexican border reached more than 6,500 in the six months since October 2022, the highest on record and a more than 15-fold increase over the same period a year ago, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data.
While just a sliver of the hundreds of thousands of migrants arriving at the southwest border, Chinese people were the fastest growing demographic in those six months, CBP data show.
Refusal rates among Chinese nationals for the most common U.S. visitor visas reached 80% in fiscal year 2021 and more than 30% in 2022, the two highest years on record, according to State Department data. While U.S. visa issuance globally has mostly recovered to pre-pandemic levels, the number of U.S. visas issued from China last year remained 90% below 2019’s pre-pandemic levels.
Visa holders and border crossers can request U.S. asylum on arrival if they fear persecution at home. Asylum seekers from China won in U.S. immigration court 58% of the time, according to U.S. Justice Department data.