The Department of Homeland Security said on Tuesday that 116 Chinese nationals were deported back to China, the move following a surge of Chinese immigrants at the US southern border in recent years.

The charter flight took place over the weekend and in coordination with the Chinese government, according to DHS, which said it was the first such major flight since 2018.

The removal follows recent engagements between US and Chinese officials. In early June, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and China’s Public Security Minister Wang Xiaohong held a video conference to discuss drug control, migrant repatriation and inter-regional cooperation, according to China’s official news agency Xinhua. They discussed deepening cooperation in areas such as combating international crime.

The U.S. begins to see an increase in the number of Chinese immigrants coming through Latin America in 2023. Since the start of the government’s budget year in October through May, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents have apprehended 31,077 Chinese nationals along the Southwest border, nearly a quarter. Total arrests at the border during this period.

Chinese migrants crossing the border typically belong to disadvantaged groups, with low incomes, education levels and skills, and who have little or no chance of obtaining a US visa. Their departures are often due to economic difficulties or painful encounters with Chinese authorities.

Between January and May, some 10,171 Chinese migrants crossed the Darién Gap, a treacherous 60-mile-or-more stretch of land connecting South and Central America. That compares with 25,565 for the entire year in 2023, and a total of 2,381 for the years from 2010 to 2022, according to Panamanian migration data. Data shows that Chinese nationals were the fourth largest group making the Darien crossing from Colombia in 2024. Many people pay traffickers to help them along the way.

Meyerkas told a House Appropriations panel in April that he had discussed with his Chinese counterpart about accepting removal flights, saying there was a deportation flight to China “for the first time in many years.” .

“We will continue to enforce our immigration laws and remove individuals without a legal basis to be in the United States,” Meyerkas said in a statement Tuesday. “People should not believe the lies of smugglers.”

The department said it would continue to cooperate with Beijing to remove additional flights, adding that the two countries “reduce and prevent illegal migration and combat illegal human trafficking through extensive law enforcement efforts.” are working to prevent it.”

Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for China’s embassy in Washington, confirmed that Beijing “will continue practical law enforcement cooperation with relevant national authorities.”

Without elaborating on the U.S., he said China’s National Immigration Administration, along with immigration law enforcement departments, “arrests planners and organizers of trafficking activities and repatriates illegal immigrants to their original residences.” have acted for, and acted upon their legal obligation under the law.”

Ecuador suspended visa waivers for Chinese nationals this month. The South American country was one of the few in the US to offer visa-free travel to Chinese citizens, providing a point of entry for many Chinese immigrants to the US.

DHS said in a statement that the United States welcomed Ecuador’s move “given the efforts of traffickers to exploit this route.”

In China, a new hashtag—#zouxian, which roughly translates as track—started gaining popularity about two years ago, when some expats posted footage of their travels through Latin America on TikTok and its Posted on the Chinese counterpart, Douyin. TikTok has banned the Chinese-language search term #zouxian, citing a violation of its guidelines. A search for #zouxian on Douyin now brings up some clips about immigrant experiences.

Li Xiaoxen, a Chinese immigrant whose crossing of the South American border last year was chronicled by the Wall Street Journal, said rumors of impending deportation began circulating on Chinese chat groups several days ago. , leading to many Chinese who are applying like him. For asylum in America on the edge.

He said some migrants who have crossed the border in recent months have been reluctant to report their whereabouts to US immigration officials, as required by US law, for fear of being sent back.

Lee, who now lives in New York, will appear in a final court hearing in a month to decide whether he will be allowed to remain in the United States.

A critic of the Chinese government, Li is seeking political asylum on the grounds that he was persecuted in China. “I fear they will remove everyone indiscriminately.” He said, “What will I do if I am deported?”

Write to Jazper Lu at [email protected] and Shen Lu at [email protected]

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