People from China increasingly trek to US-Mexico border


The skin beneath Guo’s pant leg is rubbed raw and, despite the bitter cold, he’s only wearing dusty plastic sandals. The 24-year-old said he bought them in Colombia, on a route to the United States favored by people from Latin America and the Caribbean. Now, like Guo, ever more migrants from  are joining them.

Guo’s journey began in Shenzhen, in southeastern China. From there, he flew to Ecuador. “We all go to Ecuador … because Ecuador is visa-free country for China passport,” Guo said. The remainder of his trek was via land, taking him through the , a densely overgrown rain forest that leads from Colombia into Panama. From there, he ultimately arrived in Jacumba Hot Springs, a tiny California town of 600 residents located about 125 kilometers (75 miles) east of downtown San Diego.  

Guo sat with his legs curled up in his arms on a plastic tarp he had laid on the ground to fight the cold of the desert morning. In China, he worked as a factory mechanic. His English is broken, but his euphoria is clear. “Very exciting,” he said, “because I finally here in the US.”

He had crossed the US-Mexico border the night before with 50 other people. Migrants who arrive here enter through gaps in the US border wall such as at the nearby San Judas Break. They were lined up, waiting for US Customs and Border Patrol agents to pick them up so that they could officially apply for asylum. Several wore down jackets; others were wrapped up in blankets. They had very few belongs with them. Only two had suitcases. Most were from China.

High asylum chances

Although the number of Chinese nationals crossing the US southern border is still small in comparison to other nationalities — making up just 2.5% of overall entries according to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data — they have now become the . From October through January, US Border Patrol agents registered about 19,000 illegal Chinese entries. During the same period in 2021, while pandemic restrictions were still in place, only 55 were registered. 

Michelle Mittelstadt, of the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, said most Chinese people chose to enter the United States via the southern border because of stringent US visa rules and long waits for Chinese nationals through official channels.

Despite entering the country illegally, the chances of getting asylum in the United States are pretty good for Chinese nationals. According to the US Department of Justice, asylum was granted to over 50% of Chinese applicants, as opposed to only 4% of Mexicans.

“I know all this information from internet, from TikTok,” Guo said as he pulled his cellphone out of his pocket. Social media channels on video and messaging platforms display the best routes for getting into the US, giving step-by-step instructions, suggesting various modes of transportation, even listing how much border patrol agents expect to be bribed in each country along the way.

‘Take the risk’

The phenomenon of Chinese people entering the United States via the southern border has come to be described by the term “Zouxian,” which can roughly be translated as “take the risk” — and the term’s broad dissemination on social media platforms has led many young Chinese to do just that.

“They rely on social media more in China for getting their information,” said Ian Johnson, a China expert at the US Council on Foreign Relations. “In the Western countries, you would say: ‘What does the mainstream media say about it?’ But, in China, there is no way to fact- check.” Johnson said it concerned him that so many of those young people have no idea what they are getting themselves into.

What’s driving Chinese to flee their homeland? “China has lots of problems,” Guop said. “Young people cannot afford the house prices in the city.” China’s  is in a downturn, with extremely high youth unemployment, and deflation forecast for the coming year. That could all lead to a spiral of plunging consumer spending, company bankruptcies and mass unemployment. Johnson said the situation would not just hit the very poor.

“The economic slowdown is affecting broader ranges of the population, including the lower middle class,” Johnson said. He added that increased political persecution under President Xi Jinping has also fueled a desire to leave China behind.

Guo’s family doesn’t know that he fled to the United States. “I don’t have a good relationship with my family, because I have total different opinion about the government, about CCP [the Chinese Communist Party], about this world. I don’t like totalitarianism,” he says, adding that he’s known that the is a democracy and an economically powerful nation from the time he was a child.

It’s unclear how long Guo will have to sit here in the desert cold. CBP agents are making the rounds in their white Jeeps but it could be a few hours before anyone is sent by to pick them up, maybe even another night. But Guo says he is not worried about being sent back. His plan once he gets settled in the US? “Get a job to have better life. Few years later, I want to be a professional truck driver.”

This article was translated from German by Jon Shelton.

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 appeared first on Deutsche Welle.

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