Chinese secret societies

The secret societies founded in China several centuries ago to combat unjust rulers often turned to criminality. During the mid-nineteenth century, following the discovery of gold in California, many members of these societies emigrated to the United States.

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The development of organized criminal activities among certain ethnic groups has perpetuated the notion that undesirable elements of society have been disproportionately represented among new immigrant populations in the United States.

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Criminal immigrants

Over time the federal government has passed numerous laws and increased enforcement efforts to thwart the entry of criminal immigrants and to make it easier to deport alien criminals who are in the country, including those who have committed their crimes after arriving. 

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Deportation power gives the federal government a tool to remove immigrants who enter the United States in violation of immigration law or violate standards of behavior, as outlined in immigration law, after lawful entry into the country.

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Drug trafficking

Definition: Importation and sale of narcotic and other drugs legally defined as controlled substances

Significance: Drug trafficking and immigration are strongly correlated because most of the illegal drugs that enter the United States originate outside the country. Thousands of undocumented immigrants from various countries work as couriers, smuggling narcotic and other banned drugs into the United States.

Roadblock set up by U.S. border officials checking for drugs on Interstate-5 near San Diego, California, in early 2009

Roadblock set up by U.S. border officials checking for drugs on Interstate-5 near San Diego, California, in early 2009. (AP/Wide World Photos)

The drug trade in illegal drugs began reaching epidemic proportions during the 1990’s. Scholars have estimated that profits from international drug trafficking were nearing $10 trillion dollars annually by the twenty-first century. The United States is meanwhile the most lucrative market for international drug traffickers, with tons of illegal drugs smuggled into the country every day. Many of the couriers who are paid to bring in the drugs are themselves illegal immigrants.

Illegal drug trafficking has become a global black market consisting of the farming, processing, distribution, and sale of illegal narcotics. Most countries throughout the world prohibit trade, except under license, of many types of illegal drugs. The illicit drug trade operates much like other illegal underground markets. Drug gangs and cartels specialize in the separate processes along the supply chain, sometimes involving multiple countries. The cartels vary in size, ethnic and racial membership, organizational structure, and country of origin. Supply chains range from low-level street dealers to mid-level street gangs and couriers, up to multinational drug empires. Illegal drugs can be grown and processed almost anywhere: in the wilderness, on farms and plantations, in residential gardens, inside residential homes, and in labs secreted inside such structures as abandoned city buildings in major urban districts or rural mobile home parks. The most common element connecting these places of production is that all the locations must remain secret to avoid detection by law enforcement. Much of the twenty-first century illegal drug cultivation and processing takes place in developing nations; however, some is done in such developed nations as the United States, Canada, Germany, and France. Consumption of illegal drugs is widespread globally and has been regarded as having reached epidemic proportions within the United States.

Although consumers of illegal drugs avoid taxes by buying their drugs on black markets, the high costs of illegal narcotics comes from the money necessary to protect trade and trafficking routes from law enforcement. Those who carry the drugs fromcountry to country tend to be undocumented migrants who work as low-level employees for known drug cartels. Illegal immigrants are recruited and used on a daily basis to transport drugs over national borders, especially into the United States. Mexico is particularly well known for the growing, processing, and distribution of various illegal narcotics including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines. Because the U.S. demand is huge, Mexican drug cartels can easily recruit Mexicans and Central Americans seeking better lives in the United States to carry the contraband north when they attempt to enter the United States. When these people succeed in crossing the border, they may choose either to continue to transport drugs for the cartel or to remain in the United States illegally. Although most illegal immigrants who come to the United States are not involved in drug trafficking, thousands are.

Sources of Illegal Drugs

Many diverse groups traffic and dispense illegal drugs in the United States. Criminal gangs operating in South America smuggle thousands of pounds of cocaine and heroin into the United States via a variety of entry points, including land routes through Mexico, offshore routes along Mexico’s east and west coasts, open-sea routes through the Caribbean Islands, and air routes. Violent criminal drug gangs operating out of Mexico transport millions of pounds of various narcotics into the U.S annually. Some of these groups began smuggling and distributing drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and marijuana across the U.S.-Mexican border during the mid-1970’s. After successfully distributing drugs in western and midwestern American states, Mexican drug cartels have begun expanding their markets into southeastern, eastern, and northeastern states.

Other countries have also gained footholds in the U.S. drug market. Israeli and Russian drug cartels along with other western European drug traffickers have been using illegal immigrants to traffic a drug known on the street as "ecstasy” in the United States. This drug is usually manufactured in underground labs in both eastern and western Europe, whence it is transported to the United States, usually in commercial airliners. Criminal gangs located in Southeast and Southwest Asia smuggle thousands of pounds of heroin into the United States every year. Using New York City and Philadelphia as their primary distribution points, these gangs move heroin up and down the eastern United States with the help of illegal immigrants.

Drug Trafficking and Illegal Immigration Drug smuggling and money laundering have been practiced for hundreds of years, but globalization has raised drug trafficking to a multitrillion dollar international business. U.S. authorities have witnessed and felt the deleterious effects of both the narcotics trade and the illegal immigrants who transport the drugs into the country. The illegal drug market in the United States is one of the most lucrative in the world. Consequently, the country attracts the most merciless, sophisticated, and insistent drug traffickers. Federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies face intimidating challenges in protecting the national borders.

According to early twenty-first century U.S. Customs Service figures, 70 million people enter the United States on more than 700,000 commercial and private flights every year. Another 6.5 million arrive by sea, and millions more arrive by land. Nearly 120 million vehicles cross U.S. land borders with Canada and Mexico. More than 90,000 merchant and passenger ships dock at U.S. ports, carrying 10 million shipping containers loaded with more than 400 million tons of cargo. Another 160,000 small vessels visit many U.S. coastal towns. There are thus ample methods for transporting illegal narcotics into the United States.

According to federal government figures, roughly 12 million illegal immigrants were living in the United States in 2008. About 75 percent of all illegal immigrants who made the United States their new home between 2000 and 2008 came fromMexico. By the end of 2008, California alone had about 3 million illegal immigrants residing within its boundaries. On the frontline of illegal immigrant and drug trafficking is the United States Border Patrol. Along with legal entry points, the Border Patrol is responsible for patrolling nearly 6,000 miles of both the Mexican and Canadian land borders and more than 2,000 miles of coastal waters surrounding Puerto Rico and the Florida peninsula.

On average, more than 500,000 illegal immigrants were arrested every year during the early twenty-first century, either while they were in the United States or while they tried to cross the border. In 2007 alone, Border Patrol agents arrested more than 850,000 people attempting to enter the country illegally. Because the federal government estimates that only 10-20 percent of all illegal immigrants are apprehended, as many as 4 million undocumented immigrants may enter the country undetected every year. Federal officials have also estimated that nearly 80-90 percent of illegal drugs entering the United States come from Mexico. Most of these drugs are smuggled in by illegal immigrants.

In 2005, federal law-enforcement seizure counts for cocaine and marijuana alone were astounding. The government stated that 1.13 million pounds of cocaine and 6.9 million pounds of marijuana with a total estimated street value of more than $80 billion dollars was seized. Additionally, federal law-enforcement officials estimated that only 20 percent of the drugs coming into the country is seized.

Because of increasing drug-smuggling activities along the southwestern border, the Border Patrol has also become a frontline agency in the war on drugs. Between October, 2006, and February, 2007, Border Patrol agents seized 299,154 pounds of marijuana—an amount averaging more than a ton a day. These totals represented a 31 percent increase over the same period during the previous fiscal year, when the amount of marijuana seized shattered previous records. Using the federal lawenforcement seizure rate of 20 percent, federal agents and officers fail to seize close to 4 million pounds of marijuana a year. By the end of 2007, Border Patrol agents seized modest amounts of both cocaine (14,000 pounds) and marijuana (1.8 million pounds). The total street value of drugs confiscated by the Border Patrol in 2007 alone was placed around $1.6 billion. However, the estimated total street value of cocaine and marijuana that actually made it into the United States during that fiscal year was placed around $100 billion.

Paul M. Klenowski

Further Reading

Bailey, Bruce, and William Walker, eds. Drug Trafficking in the Americas. Miami, Fla.: University of Miami, North/South Center Press, 1994. Compilation of various research efforts of both North and South American scholars on the illicit drug trade and its effects on both continents. Each chapter provides a different perspective on the problem, including the use of illegal immigrants as drug couriers. 

Bhattacharyya, Gargi. Traffick: The Illicit Movement of People and Things. London: Pluto Press, 2002. Broad overview of global trafficking in contraband, with a particularly emphasis on drugs, counterfeit products, and people. The author candidly explains how the world’s official economy has become dependant on illegal trade, without which globalization cannot access cheap labor, reach vulnerable new markets, or finance development in poor countries. 

Decker, Scott, and Margaret Chapman. Drug Smugglers on Drug Smuggling: Lessons from the Inside. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008. Scholarly work offering firsthand accounts of drug smugglers. Drawing on numerous interviews with convicted drug traffickers, the authors provide powerful insights into the dark underworld of drug trafficking, including the use of illegal immigrants as drug "mules.” 

Friman, H. Richard, and Peter Andreas, eds. The Illicit Global Economy and State Power. Lanham, Md.: Rowman&Littlefield, 1999. Detailed look at the global economic impact of illegal commerce throughout the world, with considerable detail on drug trafficking profits and the trade’s ties to some national governments. 

Morgan, Lee. The Reaper’s Line: Life and Death on the Mexican Border. Tucson, Ariz.: Rio Nuevo Press, 2006. Firsthand account of life on the front line of the U.S.-Mexican border. With more than two decades of experience as a U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officer, Morgan chronicles various true-life tales of both success and horrific failures along the border, providing revealing insights into bribery, corruption, and other crimes involving government agents, American politicians, and Mexican and American drug lords. 

Naim, Moises. Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy. New York: Anchor Books, 2007. Uncensored look at the global impact of the drug trade during the previous decade. Special attention is given to the people who are recruited to smuggle drugs across international borders, especially in the United States. 

See also: Border fence; Border Patrol, U.S.; Coast Guard, U.S.; Colombian immigrants; Coolies; Criminal immigrants; Homeland Security, Department of; Illegal immigration; 9/11 and U.S. immigration policy; Patriot Act of 2001; Smuggling of immigrants.

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Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917-1918

The Law: Federal legislation that made it illegal to speak out against the government during World War I

Dates: Espionage Act enacted on June 15, 1917; Sedition Act enacted on May 16, 1918

Significance: Enacted soon after the United States entered World War I in 1917, the Espionage Act prohibited individuals from expressing or publishing opinions that would interfere with the U.S. military’s efforts to defeat Germany and its allies. A year later, the U.S. Congress amended the law with the Sedition Act of 1918, which made it illegal to write or speak anything critical of American involvement in the war.

While the Espionage Act dealt with many uncontroversial issues such as punishing acts of spying and sabotage and protecting shipping, the act, as amended by the Sedition Act, was extremely controversial for many immigrants who were opposed to war, the military draft, and violations of their free speech rights. Specifically, the Espionage Act made it a crime willfully to interfere with U.S. war efforts by conveying false information about the war, obstructing U.S. recruitment or enlistment efforts, or inciting insubordination, disloyalty, ormutiny.

The Sedition Act made the language of the Espionage Act more specific by making it illegal to use disloyal, profane, or abusive language to criticize the U.S. Constitution, the government, the military, the flag, or the uniform. The government had the authority to punish a wide range of speech and activities such as obstructing the sale of U.S. bonds, displaying a German flag, or giving a speech that supported the enemy’s cause. Persons convicted of violating these laws could be fined amounts of up to ten thousand dollars and also be sentenced to prison for as long as twenty years.

Under the Espionage and Sedition Acts, the U.S. postmaster general had the authority to ban the mailing of all letters, circulars, newspapers,pamphlets, packages, and other materials that opposed the war. As a result, about seventy-five newspapers either lost their mailing privileges or were pressured to print nothing more about the war. These publications included German American or German- language newspapers, pacifist publications, and publications owned by the American Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World.

No one was convicted of spying or sabotage under the Espionage Act during World War I. However, more than two thousand people were arrested for sedition. One thousand of them— including many immigrants—were convicted. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Espionage and Sedition Acts, ruling that the government had the authority to punish speech that would create a “clear and present danger.”

The Espionage Act was intended to be in effect only during wartime, but the law continued to be invoked following the end of World War I during the Red Scare of 1919-1920 and again after World War II during the Cold War. The Sedition Act was repealed in 1921, but major portions of the Espionage Act remained in effect as part of U.S. law.

Eddith A. Dashiell

Further Reading

Kohn, Stephen M. American Political Prisoners: Prosecutions Under the Espionage and Sedition Acts.Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1994.

Manz, William H., ed. Civil Liberties in Wartime: Legislative Histories of the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. Buffalo, N.Y: W. S. Hein, 2007.

Stone, Geoffrey R. Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004.

See also: Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798; Constitution, U.S.; History of immigration after 1891; Immigration Act of 1903; Immigration Act of 1917; Loyalty oaths; Red Scare; World War I.

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Illegal immigration

Illegal immigrationAlthough a self-professed nation of immigrants, the United States has historically shown ambivalence toward newcomers who enter the country illegally.

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