Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Families who froze to death on dangerous cross-border walks were hardly poor migrants

According to accounts from India, the father worked as a teacher, owned a farm, and the family left their village a few days before it was consumed by the cold.

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A family of four were already waiting at a drop-off point in Canada while other Indian citizens arrived for a night hike across the border while trying to covertly walk into the United States from Manitoba during a blizzard.

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The father and mother were the oldest in a decade among 11 migrants who gathered near Emerson, Maine, on January 19 for an organized illegal crossing. His children were by far the youngest.

Most of the group were issued similar cold-weather clothing by unknown smugglers: new winter coats with fur-trimmed hoods, gloves, ski masks and insulated rubber boots, all black.

The conditions were dire even for those accustomed to prairie blizzards. Around 9:30 p.m. as the group headed for the border, the temperature was around -35 °C, with flying snow and the darkness of a featureless remote passage.

While the seven made it safe, the next day, the family of four, including a toddler and an older child, did not make it out of Canada, after more than 11 hours of walking, by US Border Patrol officers out of the cold.

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The family was clearly not poor, as is the common belief of smuggled immigrants, nor were they unsuccessful immigrants who lost a battle to stay in Canada, as some migration experts hold.

By India’s accounts, he was from a large and supportive family with few assets, father working as a teacher and farm owner, and left his village a few days before being consumed by the cold.

Indian media have identified the victims as 35-year-old Jagdish Patel, his wife, Vaishali, 33, their daughter Vihanga, 12, and son Dharmik, 3. The family left Dingucha, a village of 3,000 people in the state of Gujarat.

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The information in many publications has not been confirmed by the Canadian, US or Indian authorities.

An online prayer service was organized by Hemant Shah in Winnipeg on Monday for the Patel family by around 250 ex-pats from Gujarat in Canada.

“What happened is shocking. It is very disastrous,” Shah said getting emotional. He does not know the family personally but the community is getting information from India about what happened.

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“We couldn’t believe it. With the weather now in Winnipeg, we dare not go out. Even the thought of the pain they experienced in the freezing temperatures would give us goosebumps Huh. “

While the Patel family includes a 12-year-old daughter, the RCMP originally stated that the older child was a male in his teens. However, the original information was based on a preliminary examination under harsh conditions and may change after a post-mortem examination.

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The US side near the Manitoba-Minnesota border where migrants running from Canada were gunned down exposes harsh and dangerous conditions.
The US side near the Manitoba-Minnesota border where migrants running from Canada were gunned down exposes harsh and dangerous conditions. Photo by US Border Patrol

The remains of all four must have been exposed to severe cold for about 16 hours prior to discovery, barrier examination and identification. The RCMP said investigators are required to have “100 percent certainty” on identity and notify their next of kin before releasing identification information.

Families were a demographic anomaly within the group of migrants.

The others are all in their teens and early 20s, said Anthony S. Good, chief patrol agent for the Grand Forks sector of the US Border Patrol, whose officers rescued them in the event of a blizzard on January 19.

“Experiencing those conditions for such a period is terrifying. There’s an unreasonable expectation of survival during that time,” Good said. The group was wandering aimlessly when agents spotted them in a search, allegedly arresting a driver in the area for picking them up.

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“They were walking, but it was hard to see anything. They were a bit distracted and didn’t really know which way to go. They didn’t think the trek would be so difficult.”

The two migrants who made it were in need of medical aid. One was taken to the hospital by helicopter but survived. They were all handed over to immigration officials.

Good said the rest of the group told US officials about the Patel family having a “similar travel agenda”, as reported by Indian media.

Relatives and neighbors of the Patels said the family moved to Canada on a visitor visa about a week before the migrant was found. The family is said to have paid an immigration agent the equivalent of about $1,000 to bring them to the United States.

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Documents filed in court in the case against the alleged driver, 47-year-old Steve Shand, of Deltona, Fla., show that US officials are investigating human trafficking in the area.

Alleged Florida human trafficker Steve Shand, 47, was found by police on the US side of the border 'driving through snow and ice.
Alleged Florida human trafficker Steve Shand, 47, was found by police on the US side of the border ‘driving through snow and ice. photo by facebook

It appears to be a twice-monthly cross-border operation for Indian nationals, with someone dropping off migrants from the Canadian side with winter clothing and deporting them south, where someone is expected to pick them up.

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The Border Patrol said officials are aware of three earlier smuggling incidents in the same area.

Footprints were discovered in the snow made of shoes similar to those worn by rescued migrants by border officials on December 12, December 22, 2021 and January 12.

After the December 12 incident, US officials spoke to RCMP officials and were told that Canadian officials found a backpack masquerading as a drop-off point inside Canada. A tag inside showed the price in Rupee, India’s currency.

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The van operated by Shand also had a rental agreement for a “full-size passenger van” from January 10 to January 13. On January 12, a Border Patrol officer found more boot prints in snow stretching from Canada to the US, also by the same brand of shoe.

cpl Julie Courchine, a spokeswoman for the Manitoba RCMP, declined to confirm that the RCMP is part of a wider investigation into human trafficking.

“We’re looking at everything involved,” she said. “The investigation is ongoing,” including close cooperation with US officials.

The deaths are sparking debate in India, with the question of why so many people are willing to take such a risk to quit.

Newspaper accounts state that the village of Dingucha and others like it are filled with advertisements and solicitations to immigrate to Canada, the US, the UK and Australia. Many people make unrealistic promises of admission to Canadian universities without a language certificate.

The ads target young people who dream of living abroad as a symbol of success.

Judging by the age of the passengers who survived the trek last week, the ads are making their mark.

• Email: ahumfreys@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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Nation World News Desk
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