MORE SMUG­GLING AR­RESTS

U.S. bor­der agents ap­pre­hend Regina sus­pect’s hus­band, a Nige­rian cit­i­zen and an­other Cana­dian as part of same investigation.

Regina Leader-Post - - FRONT PAGE - DOU­GLAS QUAN

Last Fri­day evening, as Moun­ties ar­rested a Saskatchewan woman as part of a hu­man smug­gling investigation, U.S. bor­der pa­trol agents moved in on the woman’s hus­band, a Nige­rian cit­i­zen and an­other Cana­dian on the North Dakota side of the bor­der.

So far, au­thor­i­ties have re­leased few details about how th­ese in­di­vid­u­als fell un­der sus­pi­cion and whether other ar­rests could fol­low. But a se­nior U.S. bor­der of­fi­cial said Thurs­day the grow­ing num­bers of mi­grants seek­ing to jump the bor­der has every­one on high alert.

“It’s on ev­ery­body’s radar,” said Alan Zeitvo­gel, act­ing divi­sion chief of op­er­a­tions for U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion in Grand Forks, N.D.

On Wed­nes­day, au­thor­i­ties an­nounced that Michelle Omoruyi, 43, of Regina, was fac­ing rare hu­man smug­gling charges af­ter she was stopped by RCMP last Fri­day evening driv­ing a ve­hi­cle near the bor­der with nine for­eign nationals from West Africa.

The nine in­di­vid­u­als had by­passed for­mal chan­nels to come into the coun­try, en­ter­ing in­stead some­where be­tween the North Por­tal and North­gate cross­ings, the le­gal en­try points into Saskatchewan from North Dakota. They sub­se­quently filed refugee claims and were re­leased from CBSA cus­tody pend­ing the out­come of their refugee hear­ings.

The fol­low­ing day, po­lice searched a Regina res­i­dence and found a sig­nif­i­cant amount of cash — some in for­eign cur­rency, RCMP said.

Dur­ing a four-month investigation, the Canada Bor­der Ser­vices Agency “un­cov­ered ev­i­dence to sug­gest sus­pected smug­glers were al­legedly bring­ing for­eign nationals into Canada from the United States by fa­cil­i­tat­ing their il­le­gal cross­ing be­tween des­ig­nated ports of en­try,” Ja­son Evert, a CBSA as­sis­tant di­rec­tor, told re­porters Wed­nes­day.

Of­fi­cials with U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion said Thurs­day in a state­ment that around the time Moun­ties in­ter­cepted Omoruyi and the nine pas­sen­gers, their own agents ap­pre­hended two Cana­dian cit­i­zens and a Nige­rian cit­i­zen on the North Dakota side of the bor­der be­tween North Por­tal and North­gate.

The Na­tional Post has con­firmed one of those in­di­vid­u­als is Michelle Omoruyi’s hus­band, Victor Omoruyi, 40. He was be­ing held Thurs­day at the Grand Forks County Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter.

The iden­ti­ties of the other two — a man and a woman — could not be ver­i­fied, but Zeitvo­gel con­firmed all three were still in cus­tody and charges were pend­ing.

It is not known how many other peo­ple may be con­nected to the sus­pected smug­gling oper­a­tion. The charges against Omoruyi have not been proven in court.

There are many rea­sons why mi­grants might pay a smug­gler to help them get across the bor­der, Zeitvo­gel said. Maybe it’s be­cause of their knowl­edge of the area or be­cause they can pro­vide a means of trans­porta­tion, he said.

In Jan­uary, five Nige­ri­ans — in­clud­ing three chil­dren — were be­lieved to be headed for Saskatchewan but be­came stranded in a North Dakota field near Por­tal in the bit­ter cold. Burke County Sher­iff Jeremy Grohs said they were suf­fer­ing from frost­bite and the on­set of hy­pother­mia. The youngest, about 15 months old, was flown to the hospi­tal.

Ac­cord­ing to fed­eral data, Saskatchewan saw only a hand­ful of ir­reg­u­lar bor­der cross­ings from asy­lum seek­ers in the first three months of this year. Na­tion­wide, the num­ber of ir­reg­u­lar cross­ings climbed from 315 in Jan­uary, to 658 in Fe­bru­ary, to 887 in March. Most cases oc­curred in Que­bec, Man­i­toba and B.C.

THERE

ARE MANY REA­SONS WHY MI­GRANTS MIGHT PAY A SMUG­GLER, SUCH AS THEIR KNOWL­EDGE OF THE AREA.

Michelle Omoruyi

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