By Donatella Lorch
Hundreds of illegal Chinese immigrants pay tens of thousands of dollars to become modern-day indentured servants in the New York City area in return for counterfeit identification papers and passage to the United States, law-enforcement authorities said yesterday.
Searching for a better life, in a country that in Chinese is nicknamed “Jin Shan,” or golden mountain, the immigrants, many of them farmers or laborers from Fujian Province in southern China, pay or promise to pay as much as $50,000 to be smuggled into the United States.
On Monday when Kin Wah Fong, a 30-year-old restaurant worker who came from Fujian Province four months ago refused to pay his smugglers, he was kidnapped, held for ransom and tortured, the police said. His kidnapping and the arrest of his 13 captors, all illegal aliens from Fujian Province, shed light on the highly organized underground world of smugglers that extends thousands of miles from the villages of Fujian Province to Hong Kong, Thailand, South America, Canada and the United States. Slaves in New World
The ultimate destination is most often New York City, with its large Chinese population, the Immigration and Naturalization Service said. But once here, and until they pay their debts, the men and women become slaves, often being forced by the smuggling ring into illegal activities such as collecting extortion payments and dealing in drugs, said Lieut. Joseph Pollini, of the Police Department’s Major Case Squad.
Kidnapping of undocumented Chinese immigrants is a relatively new phenomenon in the city, Lieutenant Pollini said. He said the Police Department had solved two such cases in the last two months. “It seems we’re getting more Asian-related cases. This could be more widespread than it appears,” Lieutenant Pollini said. Police officials say it is impossible to know how many such cases have occurred because the Chinese community — traditionally wary of the police and handicapped by a language barrier — may not have reported them.
New York City is home to about 300,000 Chinese, 150,00 of them in Chinatown. A large influx of Chinese immigrants came in the early 1980’s, and city officials estimate that there are 30,000 undocumented Chinese in the city, most of them from Fujian Province. The province lies across the Taiwan Stait, north of Canton and is largely rural and impoverished. The number of Chinese leaving Fujian exploded after China relaxed its travel rules in the 1970’s.
Police believe the smuggling network from Fujian is connected with Chinese organized crime organizations and has grown as the emigrants from Fujian have taken over a large part of the drug trade in New York.
“They are powerful in the drug trade in the New York area,” Mary Irene Cooper, a spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Agency said. “They have a strong allegiance with the population, and they tend to be more violence prone than the other Chinese traffickers. They mix with the gangs,” she said. Recruiting in Villages
The number of Chinese illegal aliens arrested in the United States has quadrupled in the last three years, Duke Austin, a spokesman for the immigration service said. In 1988, 288 undocumented Chinese were arrested and in 1990 the number jumped to 1,353, Mr. Austin said.
The Chinese smuggling organizations are sophisticated in that they recruit directly in the villages in China and follow the immigrant through the whole emigration process to the United States, where they then provide him with working papers, food and shelter, law-enforcement authorities said. The price demanded is also the highest among smugglers. Chinese pay between $20,000 and $50,000 while Mexicans will pay about $2,000 for a ride across the border hidden in a truck or car, officials said.
“We’re dealing with a changing profile of illegal aliens,” said Alan Friess, chief of the immigration service fraud division in the New York area. “They travel a greater distance and there is a greater availibility of forged documents.”
In return, the Chinese immigrants, with little knowledge of English or of American ways, are saddled with a debt that virtually makes him a prisoner in the New World. If not forced into illegal activities, they become targets of labor exploitation, working at the most menial jobs. 23 People in 4 Rooms
Lieutenant Pollini said Mr. Fong, the man kidnapped on Monday, had promised the Hong Kong organization that smuggled himthat he would pay $20,000 for his papers. But the police said he did not pay because neither he nor his in-laws, who own the Kam Pam restaurant at 92 Third Avenue, where he worked, had the money. On Monday night, several men barged into the restaurant, near 13th Street, and abducted him at gunpoint. Within an hour, his sister-in-law received a phone call, asking her for a $30,000 ransom. The caller left a beeper number, Lieutenant Pollini said.
By tracing phone numbers, the police tracked the kidnappers to an apartment at 2327 Arthur Avenue in the East Tremont section of the Bronx. Twenty-three people lived in the four cramped rooms of the apartment, — all illegal aliens from Fujian. The police found $50,000 in cash and several semiautomatic handguns as well as an AR-15 rifle. A large portion of the money was destined for the organization in Hong Kong, the police said.
The police said the 11 men and 2 women arrested in the apartment did not have legal jobs and were the enforcers for the smuggling ring. Mr. Fong was found handcuffed to a bed and had been beaten repeatedly with a claw hammer.
Lieutenant Pollini said he believed that the police had broken another smuggling ring. In a similar case, two smuggled immigrants from Fujian were kidnapped in Chinatown for not paying their smuggling fee, taken to Queens and burned and beaten by their captors, Lieutenant Pollini said. The eight people arrested in that case were also illegals from Fujian, the lieutenant said.
“They make an example of them to other immigrants by torturing and beating them,” he said. Automatic weapons were recovered in that case, he said.
In separate incidents in November, the immigration service arrested six smugglers at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The men had in tow a total of 30 illegal immigrants from Fujian, all of whom were carrying false passports provided by the smugglers.
Copyright 1991 The New York Times Company