Like the hundreds of thousands of people around them who have also trekked weeks to reach the US, they’re driven by a desperation to escape and make a new life, despite the uncertainty of what’s on the other side.
But these migrants are fleeing the world’s second largest economy and an emerging superpower.
On a recent winter day, dozens of Chinese nationals waited in different makeshift camps scattered outside San Diego, California, just north of the Mexican border.
Bundled in hoodies and jackets, they huddled around fires as they, and others there, counted the time before US border control agents would take them away for processing – and what they hoped would be the start to their lives in America.
These arrivals are part of a staggering new trend. In the first 11 months of 2023, more than 31,000 Chinese citizens were picked up by law enforcement crossing illegally into the US from Mexico, government data shows – compared with an average of roughly 1,500 per year over the preceding decade.
Their numbers are still dwarfed by those from regional neighbors like Mexico, Venezuela, and Guatemala, and they are not alone in coming from other parts of the world. But the influx of people from China making that crossing spotlights the urgency many now feel to leave their native country, even in the midst of what leader Xi Jinping has claimed is a “national rejuvenation.”
Many who left point to a struggle to survive.
Three years of Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions left people across China out of work – and disillusioned with the ruling Communist Party’s increasingly tight grip on all aspects of life under Xi. Now, hope that business would fully rebound once restrictions ended a year ago has vanished, with China’s once envious economic growth stuttering.