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Characteristics of Chinese Human Smugglers: A Cross-National Study, Final Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2002
44 pages
Publication Series
This document discusses a study on the basic inner workings of Chinese human smuggling organizations and their operations.
Illegal Chinese immigrants have largely been “invisible” due to linguistic and cultural barriers erected by the Chinese communities. There are three methods to transport Chinese nationals into the United States: (1) travel to Mexico or Canada “by some means” and then illegally cross the borders; (2) fly through transit points outside China; and (3) smuggled in fishing trawlers or freighters. Data were collected through field observations and face-to-face interviews in both the United States (New York and Los Angeles) and China (Fuzhou). The majority of the subjects were male, and with an education of high school or less. They were generally between the ages of 30 and 40 years old, and married. Results show that most human smugglers (or snakeheads) were otherwise ordinary citizens whose social networks provided the necessary connections and resources that led to a profitable trade in shipping human cargoes around the world. They came from diverse backgrounds and formed temporary business alliances. Their organizations can best be described as ad hoc task forces. There were no godfather types of snakeheads that dominated an entire group of smugglers or commanded a group of subordinates. Most smuggling activities were highly specialized and controlled by individuals that would only deal with one another through one-on-one contacts. Policy suggestions include abandoning the traditional law enforcement strategy of looking for “godfathers” in human smuggling; focusing on the target of specific groups or individuals identified as snakeheads; closely monitoring the development of both the triad subculture and the Chinese smuggling subculture simultaneously; and investigating the peripheral services within the United States that are just as important as the corrupt officials in China used by many snakeheads to arrange legal documents. 9 tables, 2 endnotes, 33 references

Date Published: October 1, 2002