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Illegals Are on Capital Fast Track

Facing a flood of illegal Chinese immigrants and banner headlines, lawmakers and the White House are rushing to introduce bills to change US political-asylum laws

By John DillinStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 14, 1993


IMMIGRATION issues are suddenly red hot in the nation's capital.

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Congress and the White House, alarmed by boatloads of illegal Chinese immigrants landing on both coasts, are moving swiftly. As early as this week, legislation to stem the flow may be introduced with support from ranking Democratic leaders.

There is a growing consensus in Washington in favor of decisive action. Congressional sources say between 20 and 50 ships filled with would-be immigrants from China are now either on the high seas bound for the United States, or preparing to depart. Thousands of Chinese - estimates range between 10,000 and 100,000 - have entered the US illegally during the past year. Many immediately head for the New York City area, where they vanish into the growing Chinese community that now reaches from Manhattan into

Queens and Brooklyn.

The immigrants pay Chinese smugglers, known as "snakeheads," from $15,000 to $35,000 for passage to the US. A single boatload of 300 Chinese, mostly from impoverished Fujian Province, could reward smugglers as much as $10 million.

Government sources say smuggling illegal aliens has developed into a hugely profitable business for Chinese criminals, who are becoming a serious threat to law-and-order in the New York City area and on the Pacific Coast.

Sociologist James O'Kane, who teaches criminology at Drew University in Madison, N.J., says organized Chinese crime "presents police with an impossible situation. The New York Police Department has very few Chinese-speaking policemen. And the government's organized-crime groups are still geared to Mafia types." Headlines push Congress

Congress, which ordinarily takes years to formulate any change in immigration and refugee policy, is being spurred into action by banner newspaper headlines and an outraged public.

One Democratic source in Congress says extensive coverage by the media of the Chinese boat landings has increased chances for tough legislation. He says: "I don't know how many more front-page stories we can take here before this thing passes overnight. Never underestimate the power of the press. It's relentless."

A Republican source on Capitol Hill says telephone calls urging new laws are particularly numerous from California, New York, and Florida - three major receiving states for immigrants.

Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, says inside-the-Beltway attitudes toward immigrants changed rapidly as the public became alarmed.

Mr. Stein says: "There is an invasion quality with boat people that sends the population into a frenzy.... We have seen it in Italy, Greece, and off the coast of Canada with the Sri Lankans. Also Hong Kong with the Vietnamese boat people."

Several bills were introduced earlier this year in the House of Representatives and the Senate to better control alien smuggling and illegal entry. However, until the Golden Venture, a Honduran-registered ship with nearly 300 Chinese immigrants, beached on a popular New York City beach on June 6, the legislation had only tepid support.