Every year, Chinese human smugglers, known as 'snakeheads', use transnational, illicit networks to transport persons from China into the United States. Migrants pay fees as high as $80,000, and are subject to exploitation and brutality in the course of their journeys, as well as retribution upon themselves and their families should they be unable to pay. Read more after the break to find out about who's involved and how it happens.
Chinese children ranging in ages from 9-16 are often smuggled from the province of Fuijin, China with the promise of a Green Card and a job upon arrival to the United States. Chinese snakeheads, or smugglers, often approach Chinese parents promising a return on their investment, however once children arrive in the U.S. it seems rare that the children experience what they expected. It is hard to estimate the number of Chinese trafficked into the United States. Lauren Burke, Skadden Fellow and attorney at The Door explained in a recent interview that "Human trafficking, regardless of the numbers we have, is really an invisible number. The U.S. Department of state estimates that 600,000-800,000 are trafficked throughout the world and 30,000-40,000 throughout the U.S. every year."
Burke further explains that "Most people identify human trafficking as children who are kidnapped, however human trafficking can involve people who are brought over to the U.S. by smugglers who think they’ll be getting them Green Cards and then are forced into slavery or debt bondage through fraud and force"
Burke, an attorney dealing directly with the issue of Chinese child trafficking to the U.S., explains that "New York is a home base where children arrive and then are shipped across the country." Children often arrive in Chinatown and are placed on buses, which deliver the children to restaurants across the U.S. to work.
The snakeheads who smuggle these children into the U.S. are part of international drug trades and arms trafficking, although, according to Burke, their main profit is made from human trafficking. Although many kids expect to receive a green card, job and education, upon arrival, kids are forced to work 16-18 hours of work a day, and never allowed to go to school. Burke explained that often in the first 6 months, snakeheads will tell the kids they are "in training" and will not pay the children at all.
In one particularly telling incident, Burke recounted that a snakehead added $10,000 to a child's debt for using the bathroom on a plane.
Although for many children who are victims of human trafficking, the future is bleak; Lauren Burke explained that The Door is often successful at locating and rescuing victims of human trafficking and placing them in foster homes, specifically for victims of human trafficking and obtaining Green Cards for them. Burke, however still laments "We can usually get them Green Cards but it's paying off the debt to these snakeheads that's much harder"
Burke explains that many of us have probably encountered these children in Chinese restaurants across the country. If you see an employee that looks particularly young working in a restaurant, call The Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force: 1- 888-428-7581
You can also visit www.door.org for more information and legal advice on these matters.