In 1993, a cargo ship carrying 286 undocumented immigrants from China seeking a better life arrived in Queens, New York. The trip took about four months to complete as the ship — the Golden Venture — left China, stopped in Kenya and then sailed to the U.S.
Not everyone on the Golden Venture made it to the U.S. alive. And once the ship arrived in the Rockaways, some people were deported. Others were sent to other countries and some were imprisoned at the York County Jail in Pennsylvania. Only a small percentage were able to apply for and obtain asylum.
About 12 days after the Golden Venture arrived in New York, then-President Bill Clinton signed a classified memo giving specific instructions to immigration officials and organizations on how to handle the undocumented immigrants aboard the Golden Venture, as well as future smugglers. The PDD-9 memo described the incident as “a matter of serious concern,” but sought to ensure migrants were “not unfairly or unlawfully penalized simply for seeking to emigrate without authorization.”
Some asylum petitioners who arrived on the Golden Venture later sued the Clinton Administration (Yang v. Reno), claiming they were subject to abnormally tough immigration laws and were being used to discourage other undocumented immigrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. The case closed in 2002 with the court rejecting the plaintiffs’ claims and leaving many individual petitions pending.