Some early Chinese immigrants who did not hold papers that would enable them to enter the United States turned to smugglers who, for a price, would attempt to sneak them across either the Canadian or Mexican borders.
In the late 19th century, both borders were somewhat porous and with some luck, smuggling "Chinks" as Chinese were often derisively called was a thriving enterprise. Those who failed to evade border agents would be jailed and then deported.
A less obvious source of smuggled Chinese was Cuba, where since the mid 19th century over 100,000 Chinese worked as coolie or indentured laborers under very adverse conditions. The testimonies of almost 3,000 coolies in 1876 at the Cuba Commission hearings exposed the slave like status and gross mistreatment of Chinese sugar plantation laborers. (See The Coolie Speaks: Chinese Indentured Laborers and African Slaves of Cuba. By Lisa Yun. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008)
Contract laborers could not easily escape their situation, but those few who succeeded often turned to smugglers who could bring them from Cuba to the U. S. An Alabama newspaper article published in The Anniston Star on January 31, 1925, reported that when smugglers realized how lucrative "rum-running" from Cuba to the United States was, they soon added the smuggling of "Chinks" into Florida and other Southern border towns. (The resolution of the entire article is poor, but below is a paragraph that highlights the origins of this practice).