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Golden Venture: A Journey into America’s Immigration Nightmare

Distributed by New Day Films, 190 Route 17M, P.O. Box 1084, Harriman, NY 10926; 888-367-9154 or 845-774-7051
Produced by Peter Cohn
Directed by Peter Cohn
DVD, color, 70 min.
Sr. High - Adult
Human Rights, Asian Studies

Reviewed by Brian Falato, University of South Florida Tampa Campus Library

Date Entered: 7/26/2007

Although there is much focus in the United States on illegal immigration from Latin American and Caribbean countries, other areas of the world have plenty of residents who want to come to the U.S. and are willing to pay substantial money to be smuggled here. Golden Venture looks at a 1993 incident in which nearly 300 Chinese were stuffed on a steamer that attempted to enter New York City.

Almost all of the Chinese on the boat came from Fujian Province in southeastern China, across from Taiwan. They paid up to $40,000 to “snakeheads,” Chinese who organize the smuggling operations. After paying, the Fujian residents were told to go to Bangkok (most walked) and then remain in a hotel until they received word it was time to sail. They were confined in the hotel for almost two months while snakehead Lee Pang Fei bought a tramp steamer he renamed “Golden Venture.”

Ninety Chinese boarded the boat in February 1993. The “Golden Venture” arrived in Mombasa, Kenya in late March, where it took on nearly 200 more Chinese, who had been stranded in Kenya when a previous smuggling boat broke down. Enduring horrendous conditions on the overcrowded boat, the Chinese survived a hurricane as they sailed around the southern tip of Africa, and finally made it off the coast of the U.S.

Chinese gangs in New York City were supposed to send out small boats to pick up the “Golden Venture” passengers and complete the smuggling operation into the country. But gang warfare meant no one was there to pick them up, so the snakeheads decided to bring the “Golden Venture” into New York City. On June 6, 1993, the ship ran aground 300 yards from shore. Passengers jumped into the icy, rough seas, and 10 died. Rescue operations brought the others ashore, although six managed to escape from the authorities.

Those who did were lucky, because the U.S. government decided to detain all the “Golden Venture” passengers they had rescued, hoping this would be a deterrent to future such attempts. Many were sent to a county jail in York, Pennsylvania, 3˝ hours from Manhattan.

Detainees could request political asylum, but only two applications were granted out of 145. The rest were told they had to either accept deportation to China or remain in prison. About 100 agreed to be deported, although the video says more than half have re-entered the United States illegally.

Residents of York, Pennsylvania from different political perspectives united to help those still in the county jail there. President Bill Clinton granted paroles to those still detained on Feb. 14, 1997, releasing them after nearly four years of imprisonment.

The newly-freed Chinese fanned out to different parts of the country to take work, but they are still considered illegal residents, and are subject to deportation. A bill has been offered in Congress that would grant them legal residency, but concerns over illegal immigration have hampered its chances of passage, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement has continued to issue deportation orders, although the Chinese are supposedly protected while the bill to give them legal status is being debated.

Using interviews with “Golden Venture” passengers (including one whose identity is hidden because he was deported and has returned illegally), York community activists, and government officials, this video presents a compelling story. It’s recommended as a purchase for all collections. As a bonus, the video has an accompanying Web site which has information about the video, the people featured in it, and some of the issues raised. There is also a study guide, and newspaper and magazine articles from 2006 about the “Golden Venture” case. The “links” section of the Web site lists a host of sites about immigration (pro and con), Fujian province in China, State Department reports on Chinese human smuggling, and people associated with the story.