On the Snakehead Beat

A big thanks to Patrick Radden Keefe for a fascinating hour today on China’s (and Chinese-America’s) human-smuggling business. Patrick looked at the “snakehead” smugglers based in New York City. Well before their business took off, our host Tom Ashbrook was covering snakeheads in Hong Kong for the South China Morning Post. We’ve got the photo to prove it. Scroll down for a note from Tom about his “snakehead days”…


Note from Tom:

In the late 70’s, I was a rookie reporter for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. A huge story there in those days was the booming business of “snakeheads” smuggling people by boat from mainland China into the then far more prosperous Hong Kong. The press coverage was much like US press coverage of illegal immigrants today, with complaints that the flow of illegals from the mainland encouraged lawlessness and drove down Hong Kong wages. Hong Kong’s small military was happy to have reporters come along on their midnight patrols, looking out for snakeheads.

Patrick Radden Keefe’s description of snakeheads working out of New York brought it all back to me. This photo looks awfully stagey, but I well recall the long night and scanning the watery horizon for the the dark boats and their aspiring cargo. Some people will always be ready to face danger for a chance at a better life. And others will always be ready to be paid for offering the promise of that chance. Call them coyotes, or call them snakeheads.

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