The young Chinese man looked lost and exhausted when Border Patrol agents left him at a transit station. Deng Guangsen, 28, had spent the last two months traveling to San Diego from the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, through seven countries on plane, bus and foot, including traversing Panama’s dangerous Darién Gap jungle.
“I feel nothing,” Deng said in the San Diego parking lot, insisting on using the broken English he learned from “Harry Potter” movies. “I have no brother, no sister. I have nobody.”
Deng is part of a major influx of Chinese migration to the United States on a relatively new and perilous route that has become increasingly popular with the help of social media. Chinese people were the fourth-highest nationality, after Venezuelans, Ecuadorians and Haitians, crossing the Darién Gap during the first nine months of this year, according to Panamanian immigration authorities.
Chinese asylum-seekers who spoke to The Associated Press, as well as observers, say they are seeking to escape an increasingly repressive political climate and bleak economic prospects.
They also reflect a broader presence of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border — Asians, South Americans and Africans — who made September the second-highest month of illegal crossings and the U.S. government’s 2023 budget year the second-highest on record.
The pandemic and China’s COVID-19 policies, which included tight border controls, temporarily stemmed the exodus that rose dramatically in 2018 when President Xi Jinping amended the constitution to scrap the presidential term limit. Now emigration has resumed, with China’s economy struggling to rebound and youth unemployment high. The United Nations has projected China will lose 310,000 people through emigration this year, compared with 120,000 in 2012.