Immigration documentary transcript
Golden Venture Transcript
Mysterious underwater footage of the wreck of a freighter.
Off the Florida coast, 70 feet
under water, lies the wreck of a
freighter. The freighter was
called: Golden Venture.
Title: Golden Venture
Helicopters hover over the grounded freighter.
On June 6, 1993, the Golden Venture
ran aground off New York City. It
carried 286 Chinese immigrants.
Immigrants on the beach in blankets.
As the survivors huddled on the
beach -- their lives, plans and
dreams lay scattered on the sand.
Our story is about four of those
survivors, and about a journey that
remains unfinished 12 years later.
CHAPTER 1: Immigrants
Title: Guilin Chen
Guilin drives his car.
Guilin Chen was 24 when he walked
off the beach that day. He was a
young man seeking his fortune, who
had come to America to join family
in New York.
When I was very young, my uncles
lived in Myanmar and Thailand. My
aunt was in Hong Kong. Then they
went to America. It's easier to
make money and look for a better
life in America.
A man in a white shirt walks up a stairway.
Title: Yan Li
Yan Li left China for more urgent
reasons -- he was in trouble for
violating China's population
Yan Li talks in the shadows.
When we were expecting our second
daughter, the government came after
us. They said we had violated the
one-child policy. They tore down
our house and they smashed our TV.
After my wife gave birth, they
wanted to sterilize both of us.
This is when I decided to leave
Yan fled from the police and began
his journey. His identity is
hidden because today he is in the
Arming He in the kitchen of his restaurant.
Title: Arming He
As a young man, Arming He studied
electronics at a technical school.
He had both political and personal
reasons for coming to America. He
left hoping that he would soon be
joined by his wife and child.
We all left China for a better life
and more freedom. Everyone knows
that America is a free country --
relatively speaking, anyway. That's
why everyone wants to come to the
US. If it weren't good, why would
Kaiqu Zheng walks down the street in China.
Title: Kaiqu Zheng
Kaiqu Zheng was on the Golden
Venture -- but is now back in
Years ago, my kids were little.
People thought it was easy to make
money in the US. I can work. I'm a
construction worker. And if I went
to the US, my brother would help
me. In China, it's not easy to
make money in construction. I
needed money to live.
Guilin, Ping, Arming and Kaiqu all
came from Fujian Province.
Almost all the Golden Venture
passengers came from Fujian, in
Southeastern China, across from
Taiwan. They grew up on the coast
in a culture of fishing and sea
faring. They all had family abroad
-- millions of overseas Chinese
have roots in the province.
CHAPTER 2: Snakeheads
Mug shots. Smuggling ships at sea.
When the immigrants decided to go
to the US illegally, they turned to
people smugglers known as
snakeheads. Starting in 1991, the
snakeheads found a dangerous and
profitable smuggling route. They
crammed immigrants onto fishing
trawlers and freighters, which
sailed across the Pacific. In the
months before the Golden Venture
arrived, US officials were
monitoring this new influx
Title: William Slattery, INS Director, NY, May, 1993
We have about two boats a month
coming to the United States. And
we've intercepted 18 boats from
1991 to the present. The ships
carry about 300 aliens each. We
have not had a boat land here in
New York yet.
Immigrant smuggling ships at sea.
This was about to change, because a
snakehead in Bangkok had a plan to
evade US authorities.
Title: Lee Peng Fei
His name was Lee Peng Fei, and he
was the mastermind of the Golden
Title: Karen Pace, INS Special Agent.
He put the word out to the
snakeheads, I have space to rent to
you. Each one of those snakeheads
would pay Lee Peng Fei $15 to
$18,000 per person, out of the
approximately $30,000 that they
were collecting in total.
Title: Kaiqu Zheng
How much did you pay to go to the
It was about $40,000 at that time.
How did you get all that money?
Friends and relatives abroad sent
me the money.
TITLE: Yan Li
I paid him $10,000 up front and
spent almost $30,000 along the way.
When I got to the US, I had been on
the road three years.
CHAPTER 3: Out of China.
In 1992, around October, we started
to climb the mountains. Without
passports, there was no other way.
Map of Myanmar, Thailand.
To leave China, most of the Golden
Venture passengers walked over the
mountains of Myanmar and through
the opium fields of the Golden
Triangle. Some watched friends die
along the way.
We drank the water that had the
poison. Six people went over this
mountain. One person died.
The immigrants then traveled into
Thailand to Bangkok.
And there was a staging house in
Bangkok where they would wait. It
was called the duck house, and they
They didn't allow us to go out to
the streets. They just closed the
doors. They said: "You do it this
way." We had to follow. We
stayed for almost two months.
While the immigrants were shut up
in a warehouse, Lee Peng Fei ran
out of money. He turned to Sister
Ping, the legendary Snakehead then
based in New York. With a loan
from Sister Ping, Lee Peng Fei
bought a tramp steamer in Singapore
and renamed it "Golden Venture."
When the boat came it was all
Inside the Golden Venture.
It was divided into three levels.
Of course, conditions were not
Map of route to Africa.
In February, 1993, 90 immigrants
boarded the ship off Thailand.
The Golden Venture chugged past
Singapore, crossed the Indian Ocean
and stopped in Mombasa, Kenya in
late March. Several hundred other
Fujianese had been stranded in
Mombasa after another ship broke
down. About 200 of them boarded
the Golden Venture off Mombasa,
including Kaiqu, Arming and Yan.
300 people were now crammed into
the small hold.
Everyone was assigned a body-sized
space. You're cramped, whether you
sit up or lie down.
Otherwise, how could you pack in
more than 200 people? We were
starving. It was inhuman. It was
The Golden Venture then continued
around South Africa, where the
small freighter was hit by a severe
hurricane and almost went down.
They weren't waves. They were like
mountains crashing over us. We
were rolling all over the place.
People were fragile when they faced
death. Reactions were different.
Some prayed. Some put on their best
clothes. Some screamed. Some
hugged. I covered myself with a
quilt. I didn't want to see
anything. I waited for death. A
miracle happened. Half an hour
later, the sea calmed down.
The Golden Venture steamed into the
Atlantic. It crossed the equator,
heading for the East Coast of the
The enforcers were from gangs.
They were murderers and arsonists.
Some girls were raped. Other
people were badly beaten. We had
seen it all.
Small rendezvous vessels, operated
by the Fuk Ching gang were to meet
up with the Golden Venture and
receive the passengers on these
smaller vessels and transport them
to the United States. The
rendezvous never occurred.
A shoot out in New York put the Fuk
Ching gang into disarray, and plans
for the pick up at sea fell apart.
When the boats didn't show up,
Snakeheads took control of the ship
and headed for New York City. The
ship cut through the waters off
Long Island. It neared Breezy
Point, closing in on New York
harbor. And then the snakeheads
turned toward land, going full
throttle for the beach.
CHAPTER 4: June 6, 1993.
The ship was aground 300 yards from
shore. The surf was rough and the
water was cold. Ten people died.
Title: Ray Kelly, New York Police Commissioner
I received a call about 2:15, 2:20
in the morning about a ship having
Title: William Mundy, US Coast Guard, retired.
And as soon as we took off and got
to about to 50 or 60 feet heading
towards Breezy Point there, we
could see the vessel hard aground.
People started jumping in from the
bow, from the middle of the vessel
and from the aft, the tail end of
the vessel. And we noted right away
that the people that were dropping
off the back of the boat were
getting sucked into the screws.
We thought we had made it to
America. If we could just get to
shore, we would be like Superman.
A lot of people jumped. We didn't
know that so many died until we got
to the shore.
When the boat ran aground, we could
feel the bottom hitting the sand.
When we jumped into the water, it
was extremely cold right away. My
arms and legs were frozen, I could
We saw bright lights on the shore.
We knew we had arrived to a land of
freedom. We had been so scared
during the journey. Everyone
rushed to jump into the water.
Even if it meant death.
A wave dragged me deep under. I
kicked four or five times -- but
the waves pushed me down again. I
swallowed a lot of water. I thought
I was going to die.
I was lit up by helicopters There
was this bluish light shining right
on the ship and I remember right
away people jumping off the ship.
Certainly a scene to remember.
I'll never forget it.
Title: NY Police Office, Chris Muldoon
There was one gentleman coming out
of the water, I tried to assist
him. I think he believed that I
was trying to remove the bag he had
around his arm. That's all he had
in life. He was in a pair of
underwear, and he had this white
plastic bag, similar to what you
get in a grocery store. And I
tried to assist him out of the
water, and he give me a shot to the
head to the right side that I'll
never forget. I often wonder where
he is today.
Come back for fuel, we could see
the Statue of Liberty, because it
was very good visibility that
night. And I just thought that it
was so tragic that they had to die
on the American shore, with the
Statue of Liberty right behind
At that time, I was just thinking.
OK, whatever, maybe I can stay or
they may send me back to China.
I'm just thinking. OK. I'm safe.
Title: NYC Mayor David Dinkins. Early morning, June 6, 1993)
I would make this observation to
all of the residents of our city,
and of our nation. These are
people, apparently desperately
trying to come to America, and I
would hope that those people who
are already here would recognize
how important the freedom is that
they have here.
This is world news Sunday. City
and federal officials are trying to
find out tonight who was
responsible for trying to smuggle
hundreds of Chinese illegal
immigrants into the United States.
A dramatic reminder today of how
desperately some people want to
live in the United States.
In Chinese it's called Tao Do,
stealing passage. In the 1990s it
has become a big and risky
business. Early this morning,
stealing passage to the US cost
at least six Chinese their lives.
Title: Eddie Valentine, volunteer fire fighter.
If you look at these houses, along
here, this is where a lot of the
people that were in the boat ran
to. And they ran under these
bungalows and you know, actually
banged on people's doors. About two
blocks back there was a woman
there and two or three gentlemen
came to her house and she actually
invited them in, and had tea with
them. Because she felt bad for
The bodies of six Golden Venture
passengers lay in the New York City
morgue for 10 months. INS
officials made little effort to
contact people who could identify
them. The bodies were buried
anonymously in a collective grave.
Passengers in a holding area.
The Golden Venture passengers
included 262 men, 24 women and 14
children. Six people managed to
The Golden Venture passengers enter a federal building.
The survivors were bused to an INS
facility in downtown New York. The
immigrants requested political
asylum in the US. Established
practice would be to release them
on bond. Officials decided to
change the policy.
We've been told that all these
individuals will be detained. The
interagency task force believes
that there has to be a deterrent,
and all these Chinese will be
Title: Deputy Director, NY INS, June 6, 1993
This group is being detained to
provide an example of what American
law enforcement can do when
provided this kind of opportunity.
The government is entitled to
arrest them and detain them until
they receive a benefit and
a decision from the court.
Title: Rep. Chuck Schumer, D-NY
In fact, what I would say, just in
reference to this gentleman's
question is, the law was always
intended that every person claiming
asylum would be detained.
The day after the grounding, the
immigrants were taken away from New
York. Yan, Kaiqu, Guilin and 115
other detainees were bused to the
county jail in York, Pa., a large
medium security prison. A wing of
the prison had been contracted out
for INS detainees. The prison is
three and a half hours from New
York, and advocates charged that
the INS was deliberately isolating
the passengers from rights groups
and legal representation.
We had almost died. Now we were
in jail. It was a living hell.
Was this the end of our life
I called my cousin, and he said, no
problem, just stay there.
Within a few weeks, there was a
hopeful development. A group of
York attorneys decided to help the
detainees, although none practiced
immigration law. Craig Trebilcock,
a personal injury lawyer, was one
of the volunteers.
Walking in there and saying "hi,
I'm your lawyer" was not a warm and
fuzzy moment for them. They thought
we worked for the government.
Craig took a crash course in
immigration law, but there was no
preparing for the much larger
issues he was about to confront.
Chapter 5: We were not welcome
CRAIG TREBILCOCK, Attorney, York, PA
Clinton had just taken office in
January of '93, and the Golden
Venture landed in June of
'93. And in that brief time period
there were several significant
occurrences that changed
this nation's immigration policy.
One was the first attempt to topple
the Twin Towers, and that was
looked at as having been
perpetrated by people who were in
the country illegally or of
status. There was a sniping
incident at the CIA, a Muslim
fanatic was shooting, you know,
civilian employees of the CIA. And
it turned out that he didn't have
legitimate status either. So it was
looked at as, hey, there's
all these bad immigrants that are
causing serious problems in our
country. Well,the Golden Venture
had the bad timing and the bad
luck of arriving right on the heels
of those two incidents.
Fear of terrorism was only part of
the equation. The country was
coming out of a recession, and
immigrants were seen as an economic
threat. Some were demanding strong
PATRICK BUCHANAN, Republican presidential hopeful, 1992
Meanwhile, our own country is
undergoing the greatest invasion in
history. A mass immigration of
millions of illegal immigrants,
Why cannot we secure the borders of
the United States of America?
DORIS MEISSNER Commissioner, INS, 1993-2000
There certainly was an atmosphere
of urgency and an atmosphere of a
new administration recognizing that
it needed to confront something
that was not necessarily in the
June 18, 1993
We can't afford to lose control of
our own borders, or to take on new
financial burdens at a time when we
are not adequately providing
for the jobs, the health care, and
the education of our own people
Our group came at a time when the
country didn't want more
immigrants. And we were not
What happened to them then was
really a turning point in US
immigration policy. Somebody in
Washington made a decision -- no,
we're not going to release this
The simple fact is that we must not
and we will not surrender our
borders to those who wish to
exploit our history of compassion
Initially, they gave us papers to
post bond and be released. Then
they took the papers back. The US
government wouldn't allow us to
post bail. Ten people died. The
whole world was watching.
Beverly Church was another early
volunteer. A paralegal, a mother
of five and a former nurse -- it
was her first time inside a prison
when she went to interview her
Golden Venture client.
BEVERLY CHURCH Paralegal, York PA
Down the hallway comes this little
Chinese guy you know, an old blue
uniform that kind of, looks
like somebody's old mechanic
uniform that somebody tore the
labels off of, that's what they're
wearing. And flip flops on his
feet. Scared to death. And so
skinny. I just, as a nurse and a
mom, I just wanted to say, come on,
we're getting something to eat.
His jaws were sunken in. When I
walked out of that sallyport, I
felt much different than I did when
I walked in. I was determined that
I was going to at least do my best
to help him.
The fate of the detainees now
hinged on hearings held in the
jail. Each prisoner went before a
judge, who could either grant
asylum or order deportation.
Almost all of the detainees
requested asylum because they
claimed there were fleeing from
China's one-child population
Back in the early 90s there was an
increase in pressure put on the
people in that region about China's
birth control policies. That
crackdown was really the spark that
set off the Golden Venture
passengers, most of them
wanting to leave China.
The judge didn't take us seriously.
He didn't believe us. He wasn't
convinced by what we said. I didn't
know how to convince him. I didn't
know anything about US laws.
According to him, we were all
making up our stories.
In the York County Prison about 145
of these cases were heard and two
people won. Now, we may be country
lawyers out here, but we're not
that bad. At that point, some
information started to leak out to
us by comments made by immigration
service officials to individual
lawyers like me, comments like "the
White House wants these guys
out of the country," that these
people are a "special priority,"
that an "example was going to be
made of these people."
Craig was in the army for four
years until 1991 and served as an
officer in the reserves. Fighting
the US government was a strange new
prospect for him.
We're not going to let these cases
be railroaded through the system,
and so we took an appeal into a
Craig on TV.
They've very nervous because we've
been asking questions like what
occurred in the White House, what
occurred in the National Security
Council, and it's at that point
that they built this wall that
they're not going to cooperate.
As the legal appeals continued, the
detainees had to face up to life in
We write a lot of letters, so we
were in contact with our families.
We didn't tell them that we were
feeling pain. We told them we were
ok. The future will be better.
Nearly 20 of us were kept in a
"pod." It was really boring, so we
bought cards and made our own
Think about yourself -- if somebody
put you in jail so many years,
what would you be feeling? That's
exactly what we were feeling
Preachers talked about Jesus.
Buddhists came too. When they came,
we talked with them to kill time.
If Jesus is here, why are we still
in jail? Buddha says: "If you
don't go to jail, who will?"
Chapter 6: Strange Bedfellows.
Title: Sterling Showers, retired factory worker
Whatever the weather was, we were
here. When it snowed too bad, we
couldn't get here -- I think that
only happened one time, that we
couldn't get here because of the
Sterling Showers was a worker in a
York air conditioner factory. He
was moved by the detainees' plight,
and decided to help.
I can't tell you why. When I heard
of the news and everything, I was
drawn. I don't know why.
He attended weekly vigils outside
the jail, and began to visit
detainees on the inside.
I was here every week. Every week
while they were incarcerated.
Support for the detainees grew, and
came from many parts of the York
It was a really strange cross
section, because some people joined
because of their pro-life stance.
We had some pro-choice people
join because they thought, well
they're not giving these people any
choice at all when they're
forcing them to be sterilized. So
it was this real strange coalition
of very liberal, left wing peace
and justice movement types, kind of
more conservative, pro-democracy
anti Communist, patriotic types;
and at the middle, the nexus was
these Golden Venture guys.
People from the church in
Pennsylvania, they tried to help
us. We hope and hope, and then
the time went faster.
1994, 1995 and 1996, I worked with