U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Enter The Dragon--Inside Chinese Human Smuggling Organizations

NCJ Number
Sheldon Zhang Ph.D.
Date Published
January 2000
0 pages
This video presents research on Chinese alien smuggling organizations.
Organized Chinese alien smuggling is a recent development due to a limited immigration quota in the United States and greater commercial exchanges and easier travel between countries. The methods of smuggling are by air, land, and maritime, which is the most notorious. There is no reliable data on the extent of the problem but a conservative estimate is 20,000 to 30,000 people a year are smuggled out of the country. Little is known about the nature and social organization of smugglers. Smuggling involves significant planning, investment, and coordination over vast distances. U.S. law enforcement agencies believe organized crime is behind most smuggling activities. Recent developments in the smuggling business include using fewer fishing trawlers and landing at peripheral locations; increasing use of air routes; and increasing numbers of people coming from better socioeconomic backgrounds. The present study was conducted in New York, Los Angeles, and China. Data were gathered through formal interviews, informal conversations, and ethnographic observations. A smuggler or “snakehead” is defined as anyone who plays an active role in aiding persons through illegal means to enter the United States for a fee. A major barrier in dealing with the smugglers was the issue of trust, which was dealt with by using the advantageous social status of the researchers, social resources and language skills, and dealing with “friends” who had direct connections in the community. The Chinese sample consisted of 130 cases while the U.S. sample had 52. Findings showed that the key to entering the smuggling business was to have proper connections, opportunities, and the entrepreneurial spirit. Smugglers view themselves as regular business people with a viable solution to China’s problems. Smuggling doesn’t carry much social stigma. There doesn’t appear to be a vertical structure to the organizations or a “godfather.” There is a shared commitment to make money and the division of labor is highly evolved. The business is casual and haphazard and reflects the personality and work habits of those involved. Agreements are verbal and violence, though often used to extract payment, is rare within or between smuggling organizations. Corruption and bribery are essential.