U.S. Deports Chinese Migrants in First Large Flight Since 2018


A group of migrants was deported to China over the weekend on the first large charter flight there since 2018, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement Tuesday.
The department said that it was working with authorities in Beijing on further removal flights and declined to say how many migrants were on the weekend flight. The Associated Press reported that 116 were on board the plane.
Tuesday’s announcement comes against a backdrop of increasingly stern White House messaging on immigration ahead of November’s presidential election. President Joe Biden suspended some forms of entry across the U.S. southern border last month.
DHS said it had operated 120 international repatriation flights since the suspension.
“We will continue to enforce our immigration laws and remove individuals without a legal basis to remain in the United States. People should not believe the lies of smugglers,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was quoted in the statement as saying.
Beijing’s accepting the return of its citizens marks an abrupt change in policy, albeit one that had been in the works for some months.
Mayorkas told NBC News in April that despite China’s long resistance to repatriating migrants, the U.S. was conducting high-level discussions with its leaders aimed at increasing the number of Chinese nationals deported from the U.S. “We are in a wait-and-see posture, but we are working with our counterparts,” he said at the time. “It’s a process.”

Last week’s flight and the potential for further removals follow both a shift and an explosion in illegal migration at the southern border. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, 9 in 10 illegal migrants entering from the south were from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — the four countries closest to the border — but as of last year the majority of those crossing were from elsewhere in the world.
From 2019 to 2023, apprehensions multiplied by a hundred or more for more than 50 nationalities. The rise in migration from larger economies in the period was also dramatic. The number of migrants from China and India grew more than elevenfold and fivefold, respectively.
The rise in journeys from those places has been aided by transcontinental smuggling networks. While those operations have existed for decades, they have grown significantly in size and scale in recent years.

Chinese smugglers are known as snakeheads, and like their international counterparts, they have used the rise of the internet and the proliferation of cheap smartphones to grow their business. Smugglers advertise widely on TikTok, WhatsApp and the Chinese social media platform WeChat or whichever platform is popular in the country they’re targeting.
In the context of its war on people smugglers, DHS also used its statement to welcome Ecuador’s recent announcement that it will soon require visiting Chinese passport holders to obtain visas. The country has been a popular conduit for smugglers.


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