US deports illegal Chinese migrants on charter removal flight

The US said it has carried out its first large charter removal flight to China since 2018, months after the two countries engaged in high-level talks to increase the number of Chinese nationals deported from the US.

The flight occurred over the weekend and was conducted in coordination with China’s National Immigration Administration, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said on Tuesday. It did not announce how many people were aboard.

“We will continue to enforce our immigration laws and remove individuals without a legal basis to remain in the United States,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said. “People should not believe the lies of smugglers.”

The DHS said it would continue to work with Beijing on additional removal flights.

Chinese nationals have become the fastest growing group to cross illegally into the US from the southern border. In the first five months of 2024, US officials apprehended 16,270 Chinese nationals along the US-Mexico border, adding to a total of over 50,000 since China lifted its strict zero-Covid controls in December 2022.

Many Chinese had flown into Ecuador, which until July 1 they could enter without a visa, before making the trek up to the Mexico-US border.

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Migrants are apprehended by US Customs and Border protection officers after crossing into Arizona on June 26. Photo: Getty Images via AFP

Mayorkas said he raised the issue of repatriation cooperation with his Chinese counterpart when they met in February in Vienna, Austria. Washington had long accused Beijing of being uncooperative in repatriating its nationals. Beijing, for its part, has maintained that it will only take those “who have been verified to be from mainland China”.

Before Tuesday’s announcement, the DHS had confirmed only one other flight carrying deportees to China, with Mayorkas telling a US House of Representatives committee in April that it was the first “in a number of years”. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement data shows that 288 Chinese nationals were deported in the 2023 fiscal year.

Amid election year politics, the administration of US President Joe Biden has steadily increased efforts to crack down on illegal entry along the southern border. In June, Biden signed an executive order that would suspend the processing of most asylum claims once the weekly average of unauthorised crossings exceeds 2,500.

As a result of that order, apprehensions along the border have decreased by 40 per cent and over 120 international repatriation flights to more than 20 countries have been conducted, the DHS said on Tuesday.

Presumptive Republican nominee and former president Donald Trump has claimed that China is sending an “army” of “fighting-age” migrants and has floated increased tariffs as retaliation for countries that don’t stop their citizens from entering the US illegally.

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