Smuggling human contraband

Containers: Desperation leads Chinese illegal immigrants to suffering, servitude and death.

January 13, 2000

ADVOCATES turning Elian Gonzalez into a political cause rather than condemn him to life in Communist Cuba presumably do not extend the same logic to hundreds of Chinese enduring unspeakable privation to reach these shores from Communist China.

Immigration agents discovered 87 stowaways aboard six ships in West Coast ports from Jan. 2 to Jan. 10. Three immigrants died in one 8-foot by 40-foot container, with 15 survivors living beside the bodies. The endurance and sacrifice of the illegal immigrants surviving these horrendous voyages, as with the Cubans, inspire admiration.

In the Chinese racket, they typically pay a down payment and owe another $40,000 or so, to be paid over years of indentured servitude in New York sweatshops. There they toil on garments advertised as made in the U.S.A. Torture and murder await some who fail to pay.

The new practice of fitting containers with soft tops and rudimentary amenities for a voyage of three weeks or more poses new challenges to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and Customs Service. Spotting the rogue boxes amid a thousand containers aboard a ship is a daunting challenge. But enough of a pattern exists to help law enforcement agents in the United States, Canada and China. Three Chinese men were charged in Seattle Jan. 3 with smuggling human contraband.

This form of smuggling must be stopped before it catches on and becomes a problem in East Coast ports with illegal immigrants from this hemisphere. The profitable racket will grow until it is stopped.

Politicians who favor any Cuban and oppose any other immigrant to these shores ought to make sure to fund the INS, Customs Service and Coast Guard to the levels of vigilance required. Otherwise, they would have no business complaining about who and what gets through.

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