U.S. Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff says China and the United States are closer to reaching an agreement on Beijing taking back the illegal migrants. China has thus far refused to repatriate them, saying it has not verified the migrants' identities.
After meeting with officials from various Chinese ministries, Chertoff told reporters on Tuesday that China has agreed to cooperate more on efforts to strike at the criminal organizations that smuggle Chinese laborers.
He said it is also important to speed up the repatriations. He said U.S. authorities have had to release thousands of illegal Chinese migrants into the community, because there is not enough space for them at immigration detention centers.
"If we start to show progress in the short term, one of the messages that will be sent to those who are thinking of illegally migrating is that when they get caught in the U.S. they will be going back home," said Chertoff. "They will not be getting released into the United States. We can have a huge effect on this by starting to establish deterrents, which we have not been able to do up to now."
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman on Tuesday said Beijing will work with the United States to resolve the matter.
The Homeland Security secretary said he and Chinese officials also talked about improving aviation security, and about U.S. efforts to implement a cargo screening system that he said would speed the entry of cargo containers from China into the United States.
The plan, called the Megaports Initiative, is meant to spot - at the port of origin - radioactive materials that could be used in terrorist attacks on American soil.
Chertoff said the plan would benefit both countries.
"The more containers originating in China that we can screen and inspect here, the more will be able to pass through our ports in the U.S. without having to be inspected in the U.S., and that ultimately benefits not only our security in the U.S. but benefits China's ports, because those ports then become kind of green lane ports to move cargo more quickly," he added.
The U.S. official discussed possible pilot plans with other governments during this trip through Asia, which also included stops in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan.