February 22, 2024 - 7:30pm

As the US experiences dramatic growth in illegal immigration by Chinese nationals, rumours are swirling about the alleged involvement of the Beijing government. 

Podcaster and biologist Bret Weinstein discussed his travels through Central America in a recent interview with Tucker Carlson, describing a camp of Chinese migrants in Panama as a potential operation of the Chinese Communist Party. He said Chinese nationals in the camp were overwhelmingly male and hostile to outsiders, compared to economic migrants from South America fleeing poverty and instability. 

Weinstein speculated that the mass migration of Chinese citizens into the US was part of an invasion related to Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative, as was the building of a bridge at the Darién Gap whose purpose was unclear to either locals or the construction crew. 

Television host Phil McGraw, or Dr Phil, voiced similar concerns in an appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast this week, citing immigration data and describing an influx of Chinese migrants who are fit men of military age with military haircuts and boots. He suggested that Chinese nationals living illegally in the US could launch coordinated attacks on the energy grid. 

While there is no evidence that Chinese nationals are forming a fifth column, their numbers have certainly risen dramatically. In 2021 only 450 Chinese nationals were caught illegally crossing the southern border, but that figure shot up to more than 2,000 in 2022 and 24,000 in 2023, according to US Customs and Border Patrol. Nationwide encounters of Chinese migrants similarly soared in recent years, hitting 52,700 in 2023, nearly double the year prior. 

Migration of Chinese nationals across the southern border has grabbed considerable media attention in recent months, with reports attributing the movement to more mundane motives: namely, finding economic opportunity and escaping political repression. Most Chinese immigrants who come illegally through the Darién Gap are lower middle-class, according to the New York Times, and many of them fear Xi Jinping could plunge China into war or economic disaster. 

Concerns about Chinese operations on US soil long predate this most recent round of comments. Chinese-owned companies have purchased hundreds of thousands of acres of American land, sparking concern from lawmakers and a push from the Biden administration to restrict the buying up of land near military bases. Much of this territory is owned through Smithfield, America’s largest pork processor, which was bought out by a Chinese company. China’s dominance in critical industries, and America’s reliance on it for things like food and pharmaceuticals, creates a sense of vulnerability and suspicion.

American politicians on both sides of the aisle have taken increasingly harsh tones on China in recent years as the country expands its economy and global influence, building infrastructure and lending billions of dollars to countries throughout Africa. This influence has Western nations concerned. Joe Biden joined other G7 nations in infrastructure projects meant to counter China’s Belt and Road project in 2021, and there has been a bipartisan push to restrict Chinese biotech firms’ access to the US market. 

Mass illegal immigration through the southern border has grown considerably in recent years, rising from about 1.3 million to 2 million encounters from 2021 to 2022. It has become a key campaign issue heading toward November, and the winner will face enormous pressure to halt illegal entries regardless of nationality. 

is UnHerd’s US correspondent.