snakehead
(SNAYK.hed) n. A smuggler, particularly one from China, who specializes in getting people into another country without going through normal immigration channels.

Example Citation:
"They are believed to be on their way via a circuitous underground route to New York, where they are expected to work to pay off the money—estimated to be at least $30,000 (U.S.) apiece—they owe the snakeheads."
—Rod Mickleburgh, "Chinese migrants disappear," The Globe and Mail, September 4, 1999

Earliest Citation:
Mobsters known as ''snakeheads'' who smuggle illegal immigrants from China into Hong Kong are extorting protection money from their former passengers by threatening to report them, police said Monday.

''The snakeheads have taken to extortion to bolster their flagging income as Hong Kong's illegal immigrant exclusion measures bite deeper,'' police spokesman Khan Akber said of the underworld Iriad society.
—"Mobsters smuggle immigrants from China," United Press International, September 7, 1981

Notes:
According to Pamela Burdman of The San Francisco Chronicle ("How Gangsters Cash In On Human Smuggling," April 28 1993), the term "snakehead" comes from "the creative smuggling routes that snake from country to country before entering" the United States, Canada, or some other industrialized nation.

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