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IPFS News Link • China

Tenfold surge in Chinese migrants at US southern border


The brief closure of the Darien Gap – a perilous 66-mile jungle journey linking South America and Central America – in February 2024 temporarily halted one of the Western Hemisphere's busiest migration routes.

It also highlighted its importance to a small but growing group of people that depend on that pass to make it to the United States: Chinese migrants. While a record 2.5 million migrants were detained at the United States' southwestern land border in 2023, only about 37,000 were from China.

I'm a scholar of migration and China. What I find most remarkable in these figures is the speed with which the number of Chinese migrants is growing. Nearly 10 times as many Chinese migrants crossed the southern border in 2023 as in 2022.

In December 2023 alone, US Border Patrol officials reported encounters with about 6,000 Chinese migrants, in contrast to the 900 they reported a year earlier in December 2022.

The dramatic uptick is the result of a confluence of factors that range from a slowing Chinese economy and tightening political control by President Xi Jinping to the easy access to online information on Chinese social media about how to make the trip.

Middle-class migrants

Journalists reporting from the border have generalized that Chinese migrants come largely from the self-employed middle class. They are not rich enough to use education or work opportunities as a means of entry but they can afford to fly across the world.

According to a report from Reuters, in many cases those attempting to make the crossing are small-business owners who saw irreparable damage to their primary or sole sources of income due to China's "zero Covid" policies. The migrants are women, men and, in some cases, children accompanying parents from all over China.

Chinese nationals have long made the journey to the United States seeking economic opportunity or political freedom. Based on recent media interviews with migrants coming by way of South America and the US southern border, the increase in numbers seems driven by two factors.