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Thursday, January 13, 2000

Smuggling immigrants
in cargo containers

Bullet The issue: Illegal immigrants from China are being smuggled into the United States in cargo containers.

Bullet Our view: Stronger efforts must be made to combat this trafficking in misery.

AFTER years of attempting to sneak people -- mostly Chinese -- into the United States by ship in squalid conditions, the smugglers have turned to a more horrifying tactic. They are hiding would-be illegal immigrants in shipping containers. The dangers involved are obvious. Three Chinese were found dead this week in containers unloaded in Seattle.

Officials and shipping executives in Hong Kong, where many voyages of cargo ships to the United States originate, say they will try harder to stop the trafficking in people. But they can't hope to stop the grisly trade completely.

Dozens of Chinese immigrants, mostly men in their 20s and 30s, have been caught since 1998 on ships arriving at West Coast ports from Hong Kong, including 88 just this month -- 63 on four ships and 25 in two containers.

In addition to the West Coast problem, hundreds of illegal immigrants from China were apprehended on vessels in waters off Guam last year.

Closer to Hawaii, the Coast Guard responded last August to a distress call from a vessel 350 miles from Midway Island and found 120 Chinese passengers on board. The vessel was towed to Midway. Four Chinese nationals were indicted here on smuggling charges.

In the early 1990s there was another surge of immigrant smuggling by ship in the Pacific. One vessel carrying 96 illegal immigrants succeeded in entering Honolulu Harbor in 1992 but immigration officers were able to detain all of the aliens before they could escape into the city. In 1993 another ship, carrying 527 illegal immigrants, was found adrift 1,500 miles southwest of Oahu and towed to port by the Coast Guard.

Illicit passage to the United States, even under dreadful conditions, can be attractive to people desperate to leave China. They are usually forced to pay huge fees -- up to $50,000 -- for their passage, to be worked off in sweatshops after they arrive.

Barbara Zigli, spokeswoman for the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong, said officials must act fast to stay ahead of the smugglers. "Smuggling is not a static thing," she observed. "Criminals are using new and innovative ways to smuggle and the methods change over time."

Hong Kong shipping and customs officials can't search every container; six million containers pass through Hong Kong annually. The officials say they will target those with soft canvas tops, which allow air to filter to people inside. Officials will also use sensing devices to check containers for extra warmth or carbon dioxide that could indicate human cargo.

The people attempting to enter the United States illegally are more victims than criminals. The real criminals are those who so cruelly exploit the desire for a better life.

Shipping people in cargo containers is a new low in depravity and desperation. Stronger efforts must be made to stop it.

Police chases

Bullet The issue: The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police may pursue a person running away from them if other factors lead to reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

Bullet Our view: The ruling allows police to use common sense in determining whether pursuit is justified.

RUNNING away from police is, by itself, not enough to assume the person in flight has committed a crime. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police may reach that conclusion after weighing other factors and chase after the person in flight. The court's ruling removes a rigid standard that had the potential of freezing police in their tracks, allowing criminals to get away.

The high court ruled in 1968 that police must have reasonable suspicion that a person fleeing their presence has committed a crime in order to mount a chase. While police may not be required to have evidence that the person in flight probably committed a crime, the court held, they must have an indication beyond an "inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or 'hunch' " of criminal activity.

That level of suspicion was clearly reached in an Illinois case in which the Supreme Court has allowed police to exercise some latitude.

Uniformed Chicago police had converged on an area known for heavy narcotics trafficking to investigate drug transactions in September 1995 when they saw William Wardlow standing next to a building holding a bag. Upon seeing the police, Wardlow ran into an alley. Police eventually cornered Wardlow on the street, found a loaded handgun in the bag and arrested him.

Wardlow was convicted of unlawful use of a weapon by a felon. The conviction was overturned by the Illinois Appellate Court, ruling that police did not have reasonable suspicion to stop Wardlow. However, the nation's high court has reinstated the conviction because Wardlow's flight from police occurred in a high-crime area.

The courts have long held that a person "has a right to ignore the police and go about his business," Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote, "but unprovoked flight is simply not a mere refusal to cooperate. Flight, by its very nature, is not 'going about one's business'; in fact, it is just the opposite."

The Supreme Court's ruling should not result in police engaging in chases every time they see a person run the other way. It should allow them to use common sense in deciding whether a person is trying to get away from them because of involvement in criminal activity.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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