Video of the Week: The Snakehead

When human smuggler Sister Ping was finally captured by the FBI and went on trial in New York City, Patrick Radden Keefe became fascinated by the powerful “snakehead”-her business acumen, her underground network, and the respect and affection she commanded in Chinatown even as prosecutors charged her with being the kingpin of a vast and often violent criminal enterprise. Her story, and the story of the smuggling ship the Golden Venture, raised a series of fascinating questions about why people will still risk their lives and borrow tens of thousands of dollars to live and work as illegal immigrants in America.

To get to the bottom of the story, Keefe interviewed smugglers and cops, government informants and FBI agents, White House officials and undocumented immigrants. He journeyed to Canada, where Sister Ping’s network sent customers over the Niagara River in rubber rafts, to Hong Kong and Bangkok, where corrupt officials allowed undocumented immigrants to board planes to America, to the rust belt town of York, Pennsylvania, where the Golden Venture passengers were imprisoned for four years, and to Fujian Province, China, where many villages are completely empty now-because everyone has left for America.

From the New America Foundation

Check out Patrick Radeen Keefe’s The Snakehead website.

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