Page 19


The success of human smuggling operations depends on the cooperation of hundreds of individuals, including snaketails in Fuzhou, corrupt officials in China, fishermen-smugglers on China’s coast, Taiwanese fishing and freight fleet owners, Malaysian shipping crews, safe house operators dotting the globe, and underworld “facilitators” along the smuggling routes from Bangkok, Central America, Mexico, and Texas to New York. The smuggling network also involves passport and visa counterfeiters in Hong Kong, gangs who specialize in stealing passports in Asia, money launderers in New York who transfer smuggling funds back into China, and financial operators who handle debt payments in China. In New York, the smuggling network relies on Chinese youth gangs as enforcers who oversee the snake people, on lawyers who defend illegals and appeal for political asylum on their behalf, and on members of the Fukien-American Association on East Broadway, who were observed by law enforcement officials placing threatening calls from their offices to Fuzhounese immigrants in New York, demanding smuggling fees. Parts of the operation are subcontracted out by the syndicate. The U.S.-Mexico border crossings are usually handled by Hispanic subcontractors. Until her arrest in 1996, Gloria Canales, a citizen of Costa Rica, headed one of the largest immigrant smuggling operations in Central America. Immigration officials have estimated that Canales and her confederates had moved yearly at least 10,000 migrants from India, Pakistan, and China from Central America through Mexico to major U.S. cities. from Forbidden Workers, by Peter Kwong The stories the other media somehow left out are just at the end of your mouse. DownHome with The Texas Observer. Now you can read your favorite Observer features on The Texas Observer DownHome Page: Investigative Reporting, Molly Ivins, Jim Hightower Political Intelligence, and all 1′?,st. Al In our site is a list of progi ive organizations on the sive pol tics. the Editors http://texasobservenorg businesses that profit from sweatshops to trivialize them as a mere cultural issue that outsiders don’t understand. In Forbidden Workers, on the other hand, the Chinese workers Kwong interviews are no different than anyone else: they work as they do only out of intimidation and desperation. New York’s China NEW YORK’S CHINATOWN APPEARS A GRIM PLACE, WHERE POWERFUL BUSINESSMEN AND CRIME SYNDI-CATES USE THREATS OF KIDNAPPING, TORTURE, AND RAPE TO KEEP UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS IN LINE. town appears a grim place, where powerful businessmen and crime syndicates use threats of kidnapping, torture, and rape to keep undocumented workers in line. As for ethnic solidarity, it is Chinese people from corrupt mainland officials \(who sell visas to immigrants for many thousands of “community leaders” in the United States who exploit other Chinese. All the while, they push arguments about ethnic solidarity as a way of isolating Chinese workers from whatever help they might find in the United States. This is an important book, written after much courageous reporting and thoughtful research. No one who reads it will ever walk through a Chinatown, in the U.S. or Canada, in quite the same way again. As for policy prescriptions, even Kwong doesn’t seem to have much confidence that change is on the way. He advocates stronger labor. unions in the United States; this is slow in coming. And he urges tougher worker-protection laws, coupled with harsher sanctions and international cooperation against the smugglers and those who virtually enslave the workers once they have landed here. Judging by President Clinton’s State of the Union address, just the opposite is more likely: Clinton advocated more money for the Immigration and Naturalization Service to “get control of our borders.” By then it’s already too late; but the government appears uninterested in reducing demand for the workers before they decide to emigrate. In the meantime, the bloody business of human smuggling is likely to grow. While in China, Kwong says he was unable to convince a single person that Chinese citizens working illegally in the United States face a difficult, dangerous existence. Said one farmer: “After taxes and providing for the family’s needs, I make twenty dollars a year. You make that much in one day. No matter how much it costs to get there, or how hard the work is, America is still better than this.” Charles Wilbanks is a writer who lives in New York City. MARCH 13, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25