York Town Square

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When the terrible ‘Snakehead’ threat slithered into York County

A group of Chinese immigrants – formerly aboard the Golden Venture freighter that ran aground in 1993 off New York carrying about 300 passengers – listen during a news conference in 2006. That New York press conference, seen in this Associated Press photo, coincided with the release of a documentary film about Golden Venture. Now, a book on the Golden Venture has been published. (See photo of Golden Venture below.) Background posts: ‘York: A Key City in the Keystone State’ and York’s Chestnut Street fortress bad symbol of York’s past and All famous York visitor posts from the start.
Some maintain that York County is not always the most welcoming place to outsiders.
This, despite the fact that the county has served as a crossroads since its earliest days, and has grown accustomed to people coming and going.
And this, despite the fact that the county became Ground Zero for a national immigration battle in the 1990s, with the community largely in support of the newcomers from China at the center of this fight.
About 40 detainees from the grounded freighter Golden Venture sat in the York County Prison for years, although not charged with any crime.
The detainees faced much adversity, particularly from the Snakeheads, a term for those who smuggle humans from China to the free world… .

“Many of the former Golden Venture detainees are terrified of being found, kidnapped and beaten until their relatives and friends can pay off the snakeheads,” the York Daily Record reported in 1997.
The detainees sought asylum, in part, because of the Snakehead threat, and their case eventually caught the attention of President Clinton. They gained their release in 1997.
Now comes Patrick Radden Keefe to tell the story of the detainees in “The Snakehead, An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream.”</a (He will will be in York from 2 – 4 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 2, for a book signing at the York County Heritage Trust, 250 W. Market Street.)
Joan Maruskin, today with Church World Service, was a York community leader who advocated for the detainees in their fight with the INS for asylum.
She wrote the following about the Golden Venture and Keefe’s book:

York was the epicenter of a grassroots movement to obtain and asylum and release for the Chinese men and women of the Golden Venture who entered the United States on an old freighter in 1993. A grassroots organization, called The People of the Golden Vision, organized in York seeking to help the immigrants who were smuggled into the country by a powerful Chinese group known as the Snakeheads. The members worked for 3 ½ years to obtain release of the detained men and women. Unbeknownst to the people of York, the saga of the Golden Venture passengers was worldwide and included people and governments in Africa, Asia, and the United States. York was key to the saga, as its interfaith group brought the legal and grassroots communities together to seek justice for a group of detained asylum seekers.
One pre-release reviewer has said, “The book is about the American Dream, and the immigrant drive to succeed in their adopted country, legally, illegally or otherwise. The Snakehead is also a story about the way a small town and the people who live there found their lives forever transformed when a group of Chinese immigrants arrived in their community.”
York is that community.