Why so many middle-class Chinese immigrants take dangerous and illegal routes to the US

SAN DIEGO – Midnight on the remote beach of Capurganá, Colombia, was so dark that Wang Zhongwei could not see his own hands in front of his face. About 20 people climbed into a large wooden canoe as waves hit the sand. This boat trip would take the group to the famous Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama, through which migrants will walk for days in the jungle towards the US border.

It was a rainy night in May 2023 and Wang, 32, tied his 14-month-old son to his chest while his wife sat behind him. His 7-year-old daughter was sitting with her grandparents. The waves repeatedly lifted the ship several meters high during the two-hour journey. Wang and his wife struggled to keep their baby’s face dry with a raincoat while clinging to the sides of the boat. All the passengers were soaked from head to toe.