Moving people illegally from one country to another requires an extensive network of international contacts and an ability to outwit immigration and law-enforcement officers. With a well-connected family, acute entrepreneurial instincts, and a callous, life-is-cheap attitude toward the poor migrants who were her customers, Sister Ping was well suited to the job. Working with associates in China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Belize, Kenya, South Africa, Guatemala, Mexico, and Canada, she helped create the China-to-Chinatown route in the early nineteen-eighties and ushered thousands of undocumented Chinese emigrants to America. According to the F.B.I., over the course of two decades she made some forty million dollars.
It’s a spectacular show when the open, wooden boats come in, people huddled against the gunwales. In this human drama, the police are the supporting actors. So are the journalists like me, struggling against the cordon to talk to arrivals. So are the paramedics. We are all waiting for refugees.
Some of them died in the war. Some were slaughtered when it ended. Some of them died in the deep jungle, and some drowned in the Mekong, because the Hmong were mountain people and didn’t know how to swim. Some of them died in the camps. Moua survived. He is here. His son, on the floor playing video games, is a quarterback and a defensive back and an American.
At a moment when the country is relentless focused on unemployment, there are still jobs that often go unfilled. These are difficult, dirty, exhausting jobs that, for previous generations, were the first rickety step on the ladder to prosperity. They still are—just not for Americans.
Islam went first, clearing the barrier in seconds. Felani wasn’t so lucky. The hem of her salwar kameez caught on the barbed wire. She panicked, and screamed. An Indian soldier came running and fired a single shot at point-blank range, killing her instantly. The father fled, leaving his daughter’s corpse tangled in the barbed wire.