Illegal Chinese Immigrants Caught in Arizona Desert Increase Exponentially This Year

China is about as far from the United States as you can get and still be on this planet. You'd think that would be a slight disincentive for poor Chinese people without visas attempting to make the trip.

You'd be wrong.

The number of illegal Chinese immigrants caught in the Arizona desert has increased nearly 10-fold, according to recently released U.S. Border Patrol statistics.

This year, Border Patrol agents have arrested at least 261 illegal Chinese immigrants attempting to cross into the United States through Mexico. The average arrests over the past three years? A paltry 32.

Why the sharp increase? Border Patrol spokesman Mario Escalante says the answer is simple: money.

"The average Chinese will pay smugglers about 10 times more than a Mexican national," says Escalante.

Most of the Chinese caught came from Fujian, a poor province in southern China. Fujian must be a pretty rough place, because these guys have to pay more than $40,000 to smugglers and work off their debt through years of indentured servitude.

Escalante says organized smuggling operations often route immigrants through countries in South and Central America, and eventually to the Arizona-Mexico border.

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Malia Politzer
Contact: Malia Politzer