US Border Patrol agents recently disrupted a smuggling attempt that was moving 14 Indian citizens from Canada to the US across the Quebec-New York state border, court records show.
This was one of the largest US Border Patrol interceptions of Indian nationals in a single smuggling event in the last three years along this area of the Canada-US border, according to US federal court records.
The driver of the vehicle the agents stopped said he was recruited for the smuggling run in a way akin to a spy novel. The location of the interception may also indicate a change in the tactics of the smuggling rings operating in the area.
According to the US Customs and Border Protection, the border area known as Swanton Sector stretches from the New Hampshire-Maine state line to the western half of New York state south of Ottawa. This sector has the highest rate of irregular traffic flowing into the US along the Canada-US border. The heaviest traffic moves over the borders of Quebec and the states of New York and Vermont in USA
US Border Patrol agents arrested more than 4,900 people from 68 countries crossing through the Swanton sector in the past 10 months, according to data. posted this month on social media by Robert García, chief of patrolmen of the sector. His post said the tally for that 10-month period was more than all arrests over the previous “eight years combined.”
Agents discovered the Indian nationals after stopping a Jeep Wagoneer that they said was driving in an “unusual pattern” on back roads along the international border in the early morning hours of July 20, according to records. filed in the US Federal Court, Northern District of New York. .
“The agent noticed numerous passengers piled on top of each other, covered in debris, wearing wet clothing and some still carrying backpacks,” said a criminal complaint filed by a US Border Patrol agent in court. The document said that five of the 14 people were crammed into the cargo hold of the van and none “could speak English.”
US Customs and Border Protection did not respond to a request for comment from Breaking:. US Homeland Security Investigations, which is leading the investigation into cross-border people smuggling networks, declined to comment.
The RCMP, which patrols the Canadian border between customs ports, did not respond to a request for comment at press time.
Mystery caller ran organized, alleged smuggler says
US authorities charged Florida resident Abhishek Bhandari with one count of bringing and harboring aliens, according to court records.
Bhandari, a citizen of India with permanent residence in the US, was allegedly driving the Jeep SUV when officers pulled him over, according to court records.
Bhandari claimed he did not know the identity of the person who hired him for the pickup, according to the record. He said that he was recruited for the smuggling career in a manner similar to a spy novel.
He told agents that an unexpected package arrived at his Florida home with a flip cell phone and $1,000 in cash. The phone rang a few hours after he arrived and a voice told him that he needed to pick up “the family of the person he called” in New York, according to Bhandari’s statement.
Bhandari agreed to the arrangement and bought a round-trip plane ticket from Tampa, Florida, to New Jersey. He said a rental Jeep Wagoneer was waiting for him in a public parking lot with the key in the center console, and he was directed to a Walmart in Plattsburgh, New York. Plattsburgh is located about 35 km south of the border between Canada and the United States.
“Bhandari reported that he was instructed to leave the vehicle running and unlocked and then enter the store,” the court document says. “Bhandari claims that when he returned there was a new cell phone inside.”
The new phone rang and Bhandari said he was told to drive to an area of back roads along the Quebec-New York border west of Champlain, New York.
He told officers he drove through the area until he heard people talking in the woods, so he stopped “and they all ran out … and got in the vehicle.”
Change in tactics of smuggling networks
The July 20 interception in an area of forest and farmland south of Montreal may also indicate a change in the tactics of the networks moving Indian nationals after a fatal smuggling attempt across the St. Lawrence River in March.
A family of four Indian citizens and four Romanian citizens were killed trying to cross the St. Lawrence River, through the territory of Akwesasne, a Haudenosaunee community that straddles the Canada-US border for about 120km. west of Montréal.
The route followed by the Indian nationals on July 20 has been used by networks moving Mexican and other Central American nationals for the past three years, according to court records and Breaking: reports.
Most of the Indian nationals seized by the US Border Patrol and federally charged with illegal entry have been intercepted in and around Akwesasne in the past three years, according to US federal court records.
Court records also previously revealed that India-based smuggling rings coordinate with brokers in Canada who organize smuggling operations with Akwesasne-based boat operators.
US federal court records show that most of the people caught crossing the borders of Quebec, New York and Vermont by land are Mexican citizens, along with others from mainly Central American countries.
Previous Breaking: reports have revealed that Mexico-linked people smuggling rings operating in cities like Toronto regularly organize this type of overland smuggling through this area.