Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

The Case of Wu

Wu, an illegal immigrant from China, thought he was lucky to escape from the Pei Sheng freighter minutes after it docked near the Golden Gate Bridge in May.

He had expected a glorious new life after the harsh 6000-mile voyage from south China to San Francisco. Instead the 31-year-old Chinese tailor is hiding in the South Bay, fearful he will be found either by the ruthless men who smuggled him here or by U.S. immigration officials sworn to track him down.

Living as a fugitive, worried about his family and his own safety, Wu describes his predicament as one of intense pressure and cruel isolation. "I am not free in this country now," Wu says.

He fears the "snakeheads" --the Chinese term for smugglers. He paid them an initial $3000 but still owes them $25,000 for his passage. They are hunting for him now. He knows if they find him, they will force his family in China to pay the money immediately or they will beat him or one of his family members to death.

He is worried about his family in China. He left his wife, two young sons and a daughter in Changle County -- the name means "everlasting happiness" -- in Fujian Province. Wu was a tailor and was able to support his family on an annual income of roughly $1600, until he lost his job. He felt he had no future in China: he was now jobless, with only an elementary school education, the youngest son of a factory worker and a produce seller.

So, when the snakeheads came to his village praising life in America and urging young men to sign up for passage, Wu grabbed what he believed to be a golden opportunity. His whole family worked together to come up with the $3000 for his passage.

"We had no idea what it is really like here," Wu says. He knows he must stay away from the INS or he will be deported. This forces him to find part-time jobs and to keep on moving. He takes jobs that pay far below the minimum wage, works too many hours, and endures abusive employers who are willing to ignore his illegal status.

Wu knows that his situation is bleak. Even if he could smuggle his family out of China, his few friends in the Fujianese community tell him that California is considering laws that would make him and his family ineligible for health, public education and other government benefits, that any children born here would be denied U.S. citizenship, and that he would somehow have to acquire a permanent U.S. residency card.

A friend introduces you to Wu and asks you to help him.

What is the ethical thing for you to do?

This case was written by Thomas Shanks, S.J., Executive Director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

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