“Just walk that way; the border is right there.” These are often the last words migrants speak to another soul before their bodies are found just miles from the U.S. border. Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) made one such gruesome discovery whose scale of tragedy grabbed headlines: four family members, including a young child and an infant, were found frozen to death in the Manitoba wilderness near the town of Emerson. Indian nationals evidently sought to make it across the U.S. border in order to surrender themselves and then request asylum.
Others in their party made it, and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents picked them up, leading to the arrest of a man from Florida who had been operating a transport service. Cooperating with RCMP, the case led to the arrest of two Canadian citizens. Indian police have requested that the two be extradited to India for questioning and possible prosecution.
The case is ongoing, but it represents a rare bit of follow-through that could possibly hold human smugglers accountable for the deadly situations they place desperate migrants into.
Most Migrants Are Misled on the Dangers, Funneled Toward the U.S. by Uncaring Criminal Organizations
The rise in Indian nationals being encountered near U.S. borders — sometimes, just their remains — is connected in large part to political extremism and persecution. Groups such as Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, and LGBT communities face increasing risks of extortion, intimidation, and assault under the shadow of the extreme nationalist BJP ruling party.
As the desire to flee has increased, a booming business in human smuggling has taken root. Individuals are often sold services related to fake visa programs, or they are lured by sophisticated marketing attempts glorifying the trip to the U.S. while downplaying its dangers.
After many such smugglers have been experiencing challenges at the U.S.’s southern border with Mexico, they’ve increasingly relocated drop-offs to the north order, says U.S. immigration attorney Deepak Ahluwalia.
The smugglers’ clients are often billed tens of thousands of dollars, led halfway around the world through a series of short trips that avoid suspicion through loopholes in international visa programs, and then given vague instructions about how to finally make it into the U.S.
“It’s so common for a smuggling agent to just say, ‘Oh, the border is right there,'” Ahluwalia says, “but the agent neglects to tell you that you have to walk for two days.”
These highly deadly journeys through extreme temperatures treat the lives of the migrants as expendable — even minors who have little to no understanding of the situation they are in.
“They make a lot of money out of people’s despair (and) sometimes ignorance,” said criminologist Yvon Dandurand of smuggling operations.
Few perpetrators face consequences, sadly, but in this particular case, a series of leads has led to a rare arrest. Fenil Patel and Bitta Singh, residents of Vancouver, were charged and arrested in early 2023, nearly a year to the day when the victim’s bodies were discovered. They face prosecution in Canada and, potentially, India, where investigations are piecing together their connections there.
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