Immigration documentary transcript
[ bottom ]

                         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.

                                   GUILIN CHEN
                              (subtitled English)
                         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
                         control regulations.

               Yan Li talks in the shadows.

                                   YAN LI
                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         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
                         US illegally.

               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.

                                   ARMING HE 
                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         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
                         we come? 

               Kaiqu Zheng walks down the street in China.

               Title: Kaiqu Zheng

                         Kaiqu Zheng was on the Golden
                         Venture -- but is now back in

                                   KAIQU ZHENG
                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         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.

               Fujian Province.

                         Guilin, Ping, Arming and Kaiqu all
                         came from Fujian Province.   

               Fujian Map.

                         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

                                   QUESTIONER (O.S.)
                              (subtitled Chinese)
                         How much did you pay to go to the

                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         It was about $40,000 at that time.

                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         How did you get all that money?

                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         Friends and relatives abroad sent
                         me the money.

               TITLE: Yan Li

                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         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.

                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         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.   

                             (subtitled English)
                         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.


                                   KAREN PACE
                         And there was a staging house in
                         Bangkok where they would wait. It
                         was called the duck house, and they
                         were ducks.


                             (subtitled English)
                         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.

               Mug Shots.

                         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."

                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         When the boat came it was all

               Inside the Golden Venture.

                                   ARMING (CONT'D)
                         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.

                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         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
                         like hell.

                         The Golden Venture then continued
                         around South Africa, where the
                         small freighter was hit by a severe
                         hurricane and almost went down.

                                   GUILIN CHEN 
                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         They weren't waves.  They were like
                         mountains crashing over us.  We
                         were rolling all over the place.

                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         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
                         United States.

                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         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
                         run aground.
               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.

                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         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.

                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         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
                         barely move. 

                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         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.

                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         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)

                                   DAVID DINKINS
                         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.

                                   ABC NEWSCASTER
                         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.

                                   CBS NEWSCASTER
                         A dramatic reminder today of how
                         desperately some people want to
                         live in the United States.

                                   CNN NEWSCASTER
                         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.

                                   WILLIAM SLATTERY
                         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.

                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         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
                         questionable immigration
                         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?

                         Go home!

               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
                         game plan.

               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

                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         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
                         and justice.

                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         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
                         control policy.

                         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.

                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         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
                         federal court.

               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.

                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         Nearly 20 of us were kept in a
                         "pod."  It was really boring, so we
                         bought cards and made our own
                         mahjong tiles.

                         Think about yourself -- if somebody
                         put you in jail so many years,
                         what would you be feeling? That's
                         exactly what we were feeling

                             (subtitled Chinese)
                         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
top next