The "snakehead" is a fish found in China and elsewhere, known for devouring all other fishes. The illegal immigration "snakehead" is a slang term used in China itself, but "snakehead" began to be used in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere in the 1980s and 1990s.
A snakehead also known as the "Frankenfish" for its ability to live in oxygen depleted water is any of about 31 species of the freshwater fish family Channidae. They are found in tropical Africa and the Indo-Pacific region, epecially China, Korea and Sri Lanka, where they are considered a delicacy. The predatory fish consists of a long dorsal fin, small head, large mouth and teeth, and can survive on land for a short period of time (compare eel). They feed on other fish, earthworms, insects, aquatic birds and, occasionally, small mammals such as rats. Adult snakeheads can reach a length of 1 meter and a weight of more than 6 kilograms.
The term snakehead is also used for Chinese gangs that engage in alien smuggling .
By LEWIS GROSSBERGER
July 29, 2002. MediaWeek, pg. 34
The snakehead originates in a particularly gentle province of China, where it is prized as a takeout item (since it self-delivers) and is served poached or fried with ginger, scallions, bamboo shoots and Cajun hot sauce. Two of these fish were purchased in New York's Chinatown and tossed into a pond in Crofton, Md., by a local resident because he could no longer feed them after they had each reached a length of approximately 8 feet and a weight of 860 pounds and had eaten his pet mastiff.
In a recent interview, Kwong said "The Golden Mountain" (a name many Chinese have given to the United States) hasn't lost its luster for these reasons: going to the United States has status attached to it that outweighs any economic rationale, and "snakeheads" (smugglers) have found new locations outside of the confines of Chinatown to settle their human cargo.
5 August 1982, Globe and Mail (Toronto), "Children of aliens strain Hong Kong" by Stanley Oziewicz, pg. 10:
Authorities are already trying to counter a child-smuggling racket, whereby youngsters are brought into Hong Kong aboard fishing junks known as "snakeboats" named after the traffickers, "snakeheads." They can earn as much as $6,000 for a crossing.
21 April 1984, Washington Post, "False Rumors of Amnesty Lure Chinese to Hong Kong" by Rita Gomez, pg. A1:
A Hong Kong government spokesman said that "snake-heads" - criminals who bring in Chinese for a fee - had been spreading rumors in China that there would soon be an amnesty for illegal immigrants. The rumors were untrue, he said.
7 June 1993, New York Times, "High Hopes, and Stakes, For China's Boat People" by Nicholas D. Kristof, pg. B5:
Very few Chinese can afford the thousands of dollars demanded by the "snakeheads," or smugglers. So those who yearn for a better life in the United States borrow from relatives, friends and even neighbors.
8 June 1993, New York Times, "Fixing Immigration" by Tim Weiner, pg. B2:
The routes out of China are now used profitably by "snakeheads," as the Chinese call the smuggling gangs that charge tens of thousands of dollars to bring an immigrant into the United States, where the immigrant often works off the debt in a sweatshop in a form of indentured servitude.