How Chinese Migration to the US Has Skyrocketed


The number of Chinese migrant encounters recorded by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents has seen a massive spike in the year to date.

Statistics recently released by the CBP show there were nearly 45,500 encounters with Chinese nationals in the eleven months to August, compared to almost 28,000 for the 2022 fiscal year, which runs from October to September. Many of these encounters were recorded at the southern land border with Mexico and the overwhelming majority were unaccompanied adults.

One national security expert warned that this “dramatic upswing” was a “potential national security risk,” telling Newsweek: “It kind of goes to the question of: are any of these here on China’s orders?”

The fresh data comes at a time of heightened sensitivity in the U.S. towards China amid a cooling of relations between the two nations, as well as accusations of espionage through migration, land purchases and theft of agricultural innovations.

A graph showing monthly totals of nationwide encounters by customs and border agents with Chinese migrants since 2020, as of September 22, 2023. The black line shows the figures for 2023.Customs and Border Protection

Undocumented migration from China has been steadily rising from around 18,400 in 2020. However, this year’s figures show encounters increased significantly from March to April, remaining high throughout May and June, before rising again in July—with 6,158 encounters nationwide in a single month.

“We know that China is using everything that they have, every bit of espionage, to spy on our military and our high technology,” Rebecca Grant, Ph.D., a national security analyst at IRIS Independent Research, said. “And we know China’s government is not our friend, so this dramatic upswing, I think it could definitely present a potential national security risk.”

Of the 45,437 total encounters across 2023 so far, 39,427 have been single adults. Some 20,273 encounters were registered at the southern land border, of which 17,495—or around 86 percent—were single adults, compared to just 2,012 single adults for the whole of 2022.

Grant noted the proportion of single adults “mirrors what the overall statistics across nationalities looks like.”

“I’m glad we’re not seeing these heart-rending images of babies crossing the Rio Grande,” she said, but added: “I think Americans want to know—when we know China is not friendly to us—are these Chinese Communist Party members infiltrating in the south?”

“Where are these Chinese nationals going? And what is Homeland Security or whoever else doing to keep track and to answer this? Are they all economic migrants, or are there other reasons?” she asked.

Newsweek approached the Department of Homeland Security and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs via email for comment on Tuesday.

The southern land border has been a hot political topic because of its apparent porousness; CBP figures show that after a lull during the pandemic, total crossings rose to nearly 2.4 million in 2022—and have tipped over 2.2 million so far in 2023.

Migrants arrive to be processed by U.S. Border agents in Texas early on September 29, 2023. The number of Chinese migrant encounters recorded by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents has seen a massive spike.John Moore/Getty Images

“Everybody’s walking across that southern border,” Grant said.

“Some of it’s got to be that people think: this is how they can get into the U.S., and there’s a huge desire for that,” she added, noting the type of journey and logistics it would involve to enter the U.S. via its border with Mexico.

In June, Mark Green, the Republican chair of the House Homeland Security Committee noted that there had been “a massive surge in Chinese nationals” crossing the southern border, “many of whom are military-age men” with “known ties” to the ruling Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army, he claimed.

At the time, a Department of Homeland Security official told Newsweek that it used biometric and biographical information on those encountered at the border “to identify potential terrorists or criminals and prevent their release into the United States.” They stressed that “anyone who poses a national security or public safety threat is detained and not released into the United States.”

“I’m 99 percent certain that at least a little bit of this is [the] Chinese military infiltrating for reasons harmful to our national security,” Grant said. “Is it one person, is it a hundred, is it a thousand—we don’t know, but the fact that we have to ask this question is just outrageous.

“Clearly, that border is a big opportunity. Some of those people want to come here and have a better way of life, but I think some of those Chinese [nationals] quite possibly are here to spy and report back at a minimum.”


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