At 2:00am on June 6th, 1993, the Golden Venture ran aground at New York’s Rockaway Beach carrying 286 undocumented Fujianese. In the last leg of their 17,000 mile, 222-day journey in a hull the size of a two-door garage, the panicked refugees leapt from the boat in a desperate attempt to reach the American shore. Weakened and starving, ten Fujianese passengers died; the Coast Guard took 260 more into custody and arrested the ship’s thirteen crewmembers.
Smuggled to the U.S. through an elaborate international operation based in New York’s Chinatown, the passengers of the Golden Venture were only the most visible few of the climbing number of Fujianese that have endeavored to reach the U.S. by perilous means since the 1980s. With passages costing tens of thousands of dollars, Fujianese immigrants arrive in New York Chinatown bearing extreme debt to their “snakeheads” (Chinese Gangs that smuggle people). Embarrassed by the loophole of the “catch and release” asylum policy that has drawn Fujianese immigrants to America and away from stricter countries like Japan, the Clinton Administration placed any Golden Venture passengers that were not deported into Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) detention facilities.
After four years and a New York Times article condemning the example being made out of the passengers, Clinton pardoned the remaining fifty-three immigrants in detention, placing them on “humanitarian parole.” These 21st century papers sons reflect the ongoing legacy of exclusionary policies: the “pardoned” Fujianese of the Golden Venture who fanned out across the country live in legal limbo, with neither permission to stay nor a means to permanent citizenship.