News: With former upstate passageway plugged, smugglers head west

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Subject: News: With former upstate passageway plugged, smugglers head west
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Wed Feb 10 1999 - 08:34:03 EST


another case where what they shld be taking about is trafficking - not
smuggling!

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With former upstate passageway plugged, smugglers head west
February 9, 1999

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - For decades, illegal immigrants have been coming up
with creative and dangerous ways to cross from Canada into the United States.

Now, immigration officials are worried that a recent crackdown along the
eastern New York-Canadian border may lead to even more risky smuggling
attempts in western New York.

A signal of what may lie ahead happened last month, when four Chinese women
were found wedged underneath a truck at the border near Niagara Falls.
Officials fear attempts like that could soon become commonplace.

Last December, investigators uncovered what they said was the largest
immigrant smuggling operation ever along the nation's northern border. The
46-defendant indictment on the remote St. Regis Mohawk-Akwesasne
reservation in eastern New York led to 40 arrests.

"Ever since the Akwesasne arrests, the pipeline from China to Toronto has
been backing up," said Michael McLaughlin, assistant director for
investigations for the Immigration and Naturalization Service. "They're
looking for alternative means to get across."

The four Chinese women pleaded guilty and were sentenced to time served.
The women are seeking political asylum in the United States and refugee
status in Canada. They are currently staying at a church-run shelter in
Fort Erie, Ont.

But they are lucky to be alive. Two of them were treated for possible
carbon monoxide poisoning after the truck was stopped.

"To jeopardize four people by strapping them up underneath a truck and
exposing them to carbon monoxide - that's a little hairy." McLaughlin said.

The Cambodian native who drove the truck told authorities he was offered
$2,000 by a stranger in Toronto to take the women across the border,
according to court documents. Khung Chang Kang could spend at least three
years in jail if convicted on smuggling charges.

Desperate attempts are nothing new and sometimes have disastrous results.
Last March, a South African woman trying to keep her baby quiet by holding
it close to her accidentally smothered the child in the back of a Ford
Explorer while crossing illegally from Canada.

On New Year's Eve about 10 years ago, at least four Chinese nationals
perished in the Niagara River when a smuggler tried to ferry them through
ice flows in an inflatable raft.

One smuggler packed a handful of illegal immigrants into a milk truck
several years ago, recalled one immigration official in Niagara Falls, Ont.
"This is the kind of stuff that really gets me upset," Paul Colling said.
"We would like to prosecute the smugglers to the hilt of the law if we
could catch them."

People have been known to tiptoe into the United States along the arch
underneath the Whirlpool Bridge near Niagara Falls. "We even had a priest
trying to smuggle people," said Winston Barrus, deputy director for the
Immigration and Naturalization Service in Buffalo.

But the most common way illegal immigrants try to sneak in is by sitting
quietly in the back seat of a car. Barrus remembers that one man raised
suspicions at the border when he mumbled into a Big Mac each time he was
questioned.

Two of the Chinese women arrested last month are from the Fujian Province
in southeastern China. Fujians comprise the biggest wave of Chinese
immigrants to the United States in the last 10 years.

Authorities say the women had no money or documents when they were caught,
which is typical. "They'll depart with identity documents that don't belong
to them nine out of 10 times but are sufficient to get on the plane,"
McLaughlin said.

"En route they are told to eat the document or destroy it or recirculate
it. When they get off the plane the documentation that got them on the
plane is gone. Then all of a sudden they could be anybody," McLaughlin said.

Most illegal Fujians trickle into the United States or Canada by plane. One
man interviewed recently by The Associated Press in New York spent a month
trying to reach the United States from his village in southeast Fujian
province, where he was persecuted for violating China's one-child policy.

But some are sold on the image of the United States as a promised land of
riches by unscrupulous "travel agents" who charge up to $50,000 for the trip.

"These are poor people, so how are they going to pay it back?" said John
Ingham, district director for INS. "A job waits for them on the other end,
and that's how they pay back that package. They end up in low-paying
miserable jobs as virtual modern slaves who are intimidated by the people
who brought them in."


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