Immigration HQ criticised over illegals

THE Washington headquarters of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) has been criticised for not doing enough to control Asian gangs earning billions of dollars in the trade of illegal immigrants from Hongkong, Taiwan and China.

The Washington Post yesterday reported that gangs were now earning as much as US$3 billion (HK$23.19 billion) annually smuggling about 100,000 illegal immigrants into the United States, some charging as much as US$30,000 per person.

Those who could not repay were sometimes tortured and killed, the paper said, citing a January 8 shooting in New York in which two illegal immigrants died.

The report quoted a confidential memorandum from Mr Jim Hays, an assistant district director at the INS office in Los Angeles, as saying: ''While we have repeatedly proposed innovative local actions to attack this problem, we have been thwarted by Headquarters Investigations' lack of a clear vision on how to confront this dilemma.'' The news comes as two ships are understood to be sitting just outside Hongkong waters waiting for dockyard space so they can be fitted with bunks to continue shipping illegal immigrants.

Marine industry sources said both ships were expected in port in the next few days and ''all eyes'' were pinned on which shipyard would conduct the refits.

The ships will join the Philippine-flagged Sea Raider, now being refitted at the Dorman Shipyard on north Tsing Yi Island, where it has come under Marine Department and Security Branch scrutiny.

Department officials are waiting for final reports from surveyors before informing the Philippines consulate that the boat may have been modified to take passengers.

They have not yet heard from the owners or the charterers of the Sea Raider, who claim the bunks are to be used by oil rig workers off Guam.

The consulate will be asked to pass the information on to the Philippine government ship registry.

The Director of Marine, Mr Tony Miller, said such a move was not intended as a warning but was a notice that the ship ''had been modified in a way to be unauthorised''.

''Our interest and responsibility is safety. We investigate the construction, manning and equipment,'' he said, adding that it was not the department's role to take moral positions.

However, it is understood the department has been more explicit in briefing Security Branch officials.

The Washington Post report said Mr Hays had recommended that ''the issue of Chinese alien smuggling be raised to the level of national security due to its connections with organised crime''.

Meanwhile, the US coast guard escorted a ship carrying more than 500 Chinese to the Marshall Islands on Monday, saying there was evidence the passengers were being illegally smuggled into Hawaii.

A series of radio transmissions last week from the Panamanian-registered cargo vessel had painted a grim picture of a hijacking carried out by up to 40 pirates who were said to have taken the captain prisoner.

But when armed sailors from a coast guard cutter boarded the 100-metre ship about 2,400 kilometres southwest of Hawaii they found no sign of a hijacking.

The last port the vessel was known to have visited was Hongkong in late December last year.