US Deports Chinese Immigrants Signaling a Shift in Relations Between Washington and Bejjing

The first large repatriation flight of Chinese immigrants was carried out this weekend, the first of its kind in more than 5 years – signaling a shift in policy from both Washington and Beijing.

Chinese Repatriation Flight

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The US Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that a group of illegal immigrants were deported to China from the US this weekend. 

First of It’s Kind Since 2018

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Immigrants were flown out on a large charter flight, the first of its kind since 2018. Confirmation of the flight details was issued on Tuesday, though officials did not specify how many people were deported. 

Apprehended At the Border

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It was not technically a deportation flight but instead a removal flight as many of the immigrants were apprehended on the southern side of the US-Mexico border. 

Cracking Down on Immigration

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Still, it is an indication that President Biden’s administration is cracking down on illegal immigration. Chinese immigration, in particular, has increasingly become a heated topic of debate as the November presidential election looms. 

Continuing to Enforce Laws

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“We will continue to enforce our immigration laws and remove individuals without a legal basis to remain in the United States,” said Alejandro Mayorkas, the DHS Secretary, in a public statement on the matter.

“The Lies of Smugglers”

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“People should not believe the lies of smugglers,” he added, in reference to the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who enter the US illegally, believing they will be able to permanently remain by law. 

Record-High Border Immigration Surge

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Since the pandemic, the US has seen a historic surge of immigrants entering the country illegally through the southern border shared with Mexico. In January alone the US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) recorded 124,220 encounters along the southwestern border.

Growth in Chinese Numbers

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While the large majority of these border crossings are immigrants from South America, the number of Chinese nationals crossing the border has rapidly increased too.

Growing 10 Times in 1 Year

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Last year, US border officials arrested more than 37,000 Chinese nationals who were caught attempting to cross the southern border illegally. That is 10 times the number of Chinese immigrant encounters recorded just a year earlier, according to the New York Times.

The Fastest-Growing Demographic

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Now, Chinese nationals are the fastest-growing demographic of illegal immigrants in recent months. 

Causing Alarm

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These crossings have provoked alarm from some groups, who have questioned whether the issue is a matter of national security rather than typical immigration. One such person drawing attention to the issue was former president Donald Trump.

Trump Speaks Out

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“They’re coming in from China — 31, 32,000 over the last few months — and they’re all military age and they mostly are men,” said Trump during a rally in Pennsylvania in April. “And it sounds to me, are they trying to build a little army in our country? Is that what they’re trying to do?”

China’s Old Approach

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In recent years China has taken a non-aggressive approach to the issue, simply claiming that it opposes “all forms of illegal immigration.”

Resisting Repatriation

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For decades the East Asian country has resisted repatriation efforts of Chinese nationals from the US. Their change in policy has been “a process” that began in April, Mayorkas told reporters.

A More Aggressive Stance

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The government appeared to take a more aggressive vocal stance in May, when the China embassy in the US claimed that Chinese law enforcement was tackling “crimes that harm the tranquility of the national border, and maintained a high pressure against all kinds of smuggling organizations and offenders.”

Joint Efforts to Deport

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Now, both Washington DC and Beijing are working together to address the joint problem of illegal immigration and border smuggling, according to Mayorkas.

Biden Makes Moves

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The latest news from the DHS is part of wider efforts from the Biden administration to tackle illegal immigration, after facing major criticism from Republican opposition for its “soft” approach.

Suspensions and Repatriation

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Last month Biden suspended several entryways at the southern border, and ordered 120 repatriation flights since the suspensions began. 

Advocacy Groups Are Worried

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While the enormous surge in illegal immigration from China is cause for concern, Asian advocacy groups have expressed fears that political rhetoric around the issue could contribute to the racial harassment of these immigrants, many of whom come from impoverished regions of China. 

Potentially Harmful Rhetoric

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“In the midst of an already inflamed political climate and election year, we know all too well how harmful such rhetoric can be,” said Cynthia Choi, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate in response to Trump’s comments earlier this year. 

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