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On Queens’ shores, a lesson on asylum seekers

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Lost in the discussions on whether it is acceptable to lock up children separately or to simply lock up entire families for violating immigration law is the case of the Golden Venture, which landed on Queens shores 25 years ago carrying more than 200 illegal immigrants.

As the proponents of the Abolish ICE movement have asserted in recent weeks, not only is the country’s lead immigration authority a recent creation, but the enforcement of indiscriminate detention and deportation can be traced directly to the Trump administration and its stated policy to be “tough” on the undocumented after ebbing and flowing since the late 1970s. The subsequent crackdown has ensnared many, including lawful asylum seekers, long-term and law-abiding residents and others who have a reasonable belief that their safety would be in danger.

In actuality, at the turn of the century, to immigrate to America, one needed to arrive at a port of entry and pass a medical examination. Workers flowed seasonally across the border with Mexico. There were racist exemptions, mostly against Asian immigrations, but European immigrants, for the most part, enjoyed unrestricted entry to the country. As immigration from Western Europe fell and larger numbers of Jews, Italians and Irish sought out new lives in America, nativist panic led to the creation of quotas and other restrictions that have led to the modern restricted immigration system.

The practice of detaining asylum seekers has links to Queens, where on June 6, 1993, the Golden Venture, a cargo ship originating in China, ran aground on Fort Tilden beach in the Rockaways. Of the 286 on board, 10 drowned or died of hypothermia in the ensuing chaos and the remainder were incarcerated in York, Pa., where eventually some were granted asylum, but others were deported back to China or other countries that would accept them. Despite having a reasonable claim of asylum, having been the victims of human trafficking, some were imprisoned for up to four years. The detention of the Golden Venture victims became a national issue, eventually reaching President Clinton, who authorized the release of the remaining 52 detainees in 1997.

In the story of the Golden Venture, we see many parallels to today. Many of the victims were recruited by criminal gangs with the condition that they would need to work off up to $30,000 in the debt once they arrived in New York. Today, citing human trafficking and MS-13 as key concerns, our immigration system elects to punish those who arrive at the border to claim asylum. As was the case with the asylum seekers of the Golden Venture, who were starved and abused by traffickers, many have made a journey that no one would undertake unless they were truly desperate. At the time, many of the interpreters noted that despite their ordeal, the asylum seekers considered the hardship preferable to the political oppression and impoverishment in their home country.

Yet, with many similar stories of asylum seekers, having crossed oceans and made harrowing journeys to claim their right to petition for asylum, the United States has not progressed beyond the thinking of 25 years ago, in which the impulse was to lock asylum seekers in prison rather than give their petitions fair consideration. The Trump administration has announced plans to increase the number of detention centers, a troubling sign for an agency that already operates with a quota for number of beds that must be filled with detainees.

Those arguing the merits of family or separate detentions miss the lessons that happened on our shores 25 years ago.

Posted 12:00 am, July 19, 2018
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Reader feedback

Dwaye from Queens says:
Hey Prashad---The people want to know why you did not speak up about this matter or write some article when Obama enforced US immigration laws also. Put down that ham sandwich, answer the question, and account for your lacking.
July 19, 6:57 am
Fix your own from Queens says:
America cant fix the worlds problems. We have enough of our own problem people in this country. We dont need to take in anymore. Why dont they fix their own countries and stop making us out to be the problem? Their own countries need to start fighting their own fight and start making their own countries a better place to live. Also, stop comparing immigrantion of today to yesteryears immigration problems. We now have way too many people in this country and we really dont need anymore. We need to start helping our own citizens.
July 19, 11:37 am
Helton from Flushing says:
Calvin - Unfortunately, neither you and I have any idea if an "asylum claiming" person is legitimately seeking asylum or is in fact, just a plain old illegal alien who is pretending to claim asylum.

Anyone who believes that illegals have not been coached to say that they are asylum seekers is very naive.

Blame this entire situation on people like yourself who have allowed any and all illegals into the USA. Due to that, most Americans don't believe it when people are trying to claim asylum.

So, it's quite simple...until we can find a way to know who is who, we don't allow any asylum seekers or illegals into the country.

Problem solved for American citizens who want the rules of law to be enforced.
July 19, 12:47 pm
Don't break in from Queens says:
The issue of whether those who break into the country can stay at US expense with or without their kids is far from the point Calvin. Those who break in are criminals and deserve to be treated as such. Their home govts should reimburse us taxpayers for their care. Those who come here because they have violence at home are not our problem to solve. Those who have been let in on this premise which is most often a lie, should be sent to Guam or Saipan to await their asylum hearing.
July 19, 2:38 pm
ForRealz from Bayside says:
I'm all for asylum, as long as the person is willing to go fight overseas for 1 year. If they live, they get to come back. This was the offer my uncle got in the 1960s fleeing war torn Northern Ireland, but I guess only brown/yello people now get to walk right in no questions asked.
Aug. 5, 5:15 pm

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