A growing number of Chinese nationals are illegally entering the United States through the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Protection (CBP) data shows.
The CBP recorded 4,271 Chinese nationals crossing the southern border between October and February, The Wall Street Journal reported. The number was more than 10 times greater than the same period the previous year.
Shelter staff with the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen used to see one Chinese person a month, according to Norma Pimental, who oversees the charities.
“Now, all of a sudden, we see a surge of people from China,” she said.
Accounts vary, with some flying to Mexico to travel north while others make their way to Ecuador before traveling the dangerous jungle of the Darien Gap in Panama on their lengthy journey to the United States.
Earlier this month, the U.S. announced a new effort with Panama and Columbia to stop migration through the Darien Gap as nearly 90,000 people have reportedly traveled through the area during the first quarter of this year.
“Recognizing our shared interest and responsibility to prevent the risk to human life, disrupt transnational criminal organizations, and preserve the vital rainforest, the governments of Panamá, Colombia, and the United States intend to carry out a two-month coordinated campaign to address the serious humanitarian situation in the Darién,” the statement said, according to The Associated Press.
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Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also met with leaders in Panama to address the new safety plan after more than 250,000 people passed through the Darien Gap last year, according to Panama’s government.
The Wall Street Journal noted that the cost for a Chinese citizen seeking a trip through Latin America to the U.S. ranges from $7,000 to $10,000 to cover the cost of smuggling, housing and transportation. More direct routes into Mexico through airports and to the southern border can cost up to $60,000 or more, according to migrants.
While some Americans are concerned about national security issues with Chinese citizens crossing the southern border, the migrants interviewed by the Wall Street Journal expressed gratitude to leave China for newfound freedom.
“CBP works around the clock to perform our vital missions including maintaining border security. Overall, in March, encounters of individuals on the Southwest border between ports of entry were down 23% from the prior year, as we continue to respond to the challenges presented by increasing global migration,” said CBP Acting Commissioner Troy A. Miller.
“CBP will continue to enforce our immigration laws and ramp up efforts to combat smuggler misinformation as we prepare to return to expedited removal proceedings under Title 8 authorities, which carry stricter consequences like a five-year ban on reentry and potential criminal prosecution for unlawful entry,” he added.