Indian Officials Detain Six People in Connection with Four Deaths Near the Canadian-US Border

In January 2022, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police found four bodies near Emerson, Manitoba. The bodies were a man, a woman, a teenager, and an infant.

The family was later determined to have been Indian immigrants trying to enter the US through a remote area of the US-Canadian border.

Ashish Bhatia, director general of police in Gujarat, says investigators are trying to learn if there was a travel agent in India who helped the group. Another police official, A. K. Jhala, told Reuters they had detained six people who were operating a travel and tourism company.

“We are now trying to nab the human traffickers who managed to send this family and others abroad via illegal channels,” said Jhala.

US authorities also charged Florida resident Steve Shand with human trafficking in connection with the four deaths. US officials realized something was wrong when they picked up a group of immigrants and found that one was carrying infant supplies, despite no one having a baby.

Immigration lawyer Deepak Ahluwalia says smugglers and migrants often use the Emerson crossing because its remote location makes it inaccessible to patrol officers. Unfortunately, the remoteness also makes it impossible for immigrants to get help in an emergency, such as the blizzard the family of four encountered.

To make matters worse, Ahluwalia says that many immigrants are scammed by smugglers who promise them documents or fail to explain just how treacherous the journey into the US will be.

“Once migrants have made contact with a smuggler through an ad or word of mouth — and provided payment — they usually receive general instructions about their journey,” said Ahluwalia. “It’s so common for a smuggling agent to just say, ‘Oh, the border is right there,’ but the agent neglects to tell you that you have to walk for two days.”

Additionally, phones usually don’t work in remote areas like Emerson, and some immigrants may encounter dangerous weather or run out of food and water. Smugglers may not warn their customers or care if they experience a life-threatening situation like a blizzard.

“They know that once they put you across, their job is done. They don’t really have any incentive to make sure that you end up safe,” Ahluwalia said. “In this case, I don’t know anyone who could be in their right mind to tell them to make this journey knowing that the mom had an infant in her hands. It’s just sad that four people died, and they died so brutally and so tragically.”

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Lead attorney Deepak Ahluwalia is an experienced immigration attorney who has been interviewed by global media organizations, including the BBC, CNN, The Guardian, and more.