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China, U.S. step up war against illegal immigration
FUJIAN, China (CNN) -- U.S. immigration authorities are working closely with officials from China's Fujian province to combat a problem of mutual concern -- the thriving human smuggling industry.
Armed Chinese coast guard vessels have started regular patrols off Fujian's coastline, and inspect ships for signs of hidden passengers. More than 2,000 were caught last year.
However, thousands don't get caught each year.
Approximately 100,000 Chinese leave the country illegally every year in search of better livelihoods. Experts say 80 percent of the would-be immigrants are from a few counties in Fujian province.
Many are bound for the United States, where U.S. Coast Guard officials have reported a dramatic increase in the number of searches involving violence.
The Coast Guard said in January it had used force more than 20 times to end riots or other incidents in the past two years. Such encounters were rare before 1998.
Many of Fujian's residents readily acknowledge they have relatives living overseas, and that they receive money. Some have used the money to build new houses, while others use it to buy day-to-day items.
"The problem will persist because there is a pull factor. The pull factor is what they see coming back from the United States," U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service spokeswoman Jean Christiansen recently told CNN.
Snakeheads selling 'easy trip'
For example, 15 Chinese men, who had departed from Hong Kong, were found on January 11 in a shipping container off Seattle. Twelve of the men were barely able to stumble out of the container. The bodies of the other three were buried under debris.
Their trip had been arranged by people smugglers known in China as "snakeheads." They paid the snakeheads $60,000 each for the journey to the "promised land." Those who couldn't pay had agreed to work off their bills after they arrived in the United States.
"They're telling people that all they have to do is sign up with them, that they will have a very easy trip to America. And that's a lie," Christiansen said.
Most of the illegal immigrants caught overseas are repatriated to China. But Chinese authorities complain that not all are deported, a fact which they argue undermines their efforts.
"We'd like the United States to return all illegal immigrants when they catch them," said Chinese coast guard spokesman Shi Qihuan.
"Some of them make up all kinds of lies, and apply for political asylum, or say they're running from the one-child policy" he added. "Some of them are allowed to stay. This only encourages illegal emigration."
Clinton grants humanitarian parole
Many of the Chinese stranded near New York City a few years ago claimed they would be forcibly sterilized if returned to China. They had been transported in a ship called the Golden Venture.
Approximately 100 of those passengers were deported to China, but U.S. President Bill Clinton, under pressure from Congress and religious groups, granted humanitarian parole to those passengers who remained in federal detention centers.
"How can we, out of one side of our mouth, say their human rights policy is deplorable, and, (out of) the other side of our mouth, say we're either going to incarcerate these people forever or ... send them back to a deplorable condition?" Rep. Bill Goodling (R-Pa) said.
The U.S. government insists these people were the exception, not the rule. Christiansen said, for example, that the U.S. government granted political asylum to only 13 percent of the Chinese applicants in 1998.
"We repatriate people on a daily basis," Christiansen said.
China: The Woman Behind the Anti-Graft Drive
CIA Factbook 1999: China
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