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Recently a memorial service was held for 58 persons who died of suffocation in a truck in Dover, Kent. They were Chinese. They were illegal aliens who had been brought from Europe into England. This tragedy was not an isolated incident. It was just a shocking example of what can, and sometimes does go wrong in the multi-million pound industry of alien smuggling. I use the word “industry” because like drug smuggling this is major organised crime.

This type of incident is not limited to England. There are aliens leaving their home countries who enter illegally into most major industrialised countries. Overwhelmingly this is a movement from the “developing world” to the “developed world”.

The United States has the dubious distinction of having the largest number of illegals of any “developed” country. According to the US Immigration and Naturalization Service there are now an estimated six million illegals Stateside. Although INS admits that estimating the size of a hidden population is inherently difficult, it believes its estimates to be fairly accurate with a margin of error of about 10%. About 40% of illegals live in California. California together with the states of Arizona, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas accounted for some 83% of total illegals according to an INS study at the end of 1996. Thus in most the American states illegals comprise far less than 1% of the population.

A few months before the ill fated Chinese who were brought across the English Channel to perish in Kent, over in the Pacific “Operation Poinsettia” occurred. This involved the smuggling of over 200 Chinese immigrants on board a Russian built coastal freighter. This vessel was intercepted in international waters by the US Coast Guard and brought into port in Guatemala. This case is a legal landmark as it is the first successful prosecution of its kind where the vessel was intercepted in international waters. Three defendants, all from the Peoples Republic of China have pleaded guilty to attempted unauthorised bringing of aliens into the US for financial gain. They are now awaiting sentences which may range from 36 to 54 months.

This would have been a highly profitable voyage for the defendants, as the Chinese immigrants reported that the cost of the trip was up to $45,000 per passenger. Such monies were to be paid by the immigrants’ families back home, or worked off by the immigrants themselves on arrival Stateside. In reality this often means that illegals are forced into prostitution.

Logistically this operation required the cooperation of numerous offices of the INS as well as the US Coast Guard, US Public Health Service, US Attorney’s Office and the US embassy in Guatemala which secured the cooperation of Guatemala where the illegals were detained and interviewed.

In an investigation known as “Operation Over The Rainbow II” at the end of 1998 INS identified and arrested some 47 alien smugglers who over a two year period brought in to the United States approximately 3,600 illegals, at an average cost of $47,000 each, hence netting $170 million. This scheme began in China where recruiters were hired to arrange travel through Canada into the United States. Once the immigrants had arrived in Canada they were generally kept in safe houses in Toronto, before being brought to Cornwall, Ontario to be smuggled Stateside across the St. Regis Mohawk Territory. This scheme required complex organisation using North American Indian territory to evade US immigration law. The success of this operation was due to close international cooperation with the Canadian government, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Toronto Police Service and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Police. Stateside, in addition to the INS, the FBI, New York State Police and the Internal Revenue Service were involved in this operation.

The above American examples demonstrate that only through inter-agency and international cooperation can the large scale smuggling of illegals be successfully attacked. The American examples also demonstrate the scale of international alien smuggling as well as the ingenuity of the smugglers themselves. The last example shows that the US situation with regard to alien smuggling is very different from that of the United Kingdom, in that America has approximately 7,000 miles of land border between itself, Canada and Mexico.

In fact, according to INS studies, over half the illegals in America are Mexican, whereas the INS estimated there were 120,000 Canadian illegals Stateside at the end of 1996. What the above examples do not suggest, although they all involve Chinese immigrants, is that there are a substantial number of Chinese illegals Stateside. The INS estimates that China is not even within the top 20 nationalities of illegals Stateside and that there are more illegals from each of Ireland, Poland and Portugal than from China.

There is an important political question for America and other counties, such as the UK which has large populations of illegals: whether to have another amnesty and legalisation program as we did in the 1980’s under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which legalised the resident status of illegals who could prove that they had established residence Stateside before 1982? If not, we have the continued situation of millions of people in America clearly flaunting Federal law. The desirability and practicality of seeking to deport upwards of six million is doubtful and daunting. This is also an issue that the British public and the British government need to consider seriously. Although there has been much recent discussion and media coverage about asylum seeking in Britain, little attention has been given to Britain’s large population of illegals.