In what was the largest apprehension of undocumented immigrants in US history, the grounding of the freighter Golden Venture off a New York City beach became a crucial turning point in the legal and political battle over US immigration policy.
Passengers had paid at least $30,000 to be brought to the U.S. from China’s Fujian Province, expecting to arrive indebted but unnoticed. But a seemingly golden opportunity, sparked by a Chinatown gang war, quickly evolved into a nightmare: The Golden Venture crash fed a media circus and became a symbol of a growing national concern over illegal immigration. With Bill Clinton facing a major erosion in political support, in part because of a surge in anti-immigrant sentiment, the government adopted a harsh new get tough policies — including detention of asylum seekers.
Many passengers were deported over a two-year period, while others were detained for up to four years in York, PA, where an unlikely coalition of lawyers, human rights advocages and anti-abortaion activists fought to help them.
At a time when the immigration issue has led to furious debate and high stakes political maneuvering, the fate of the Golden Venture passengers is more relevant than ever.