MORE SMUGGLING ARRESTS
U.S. border agents apprehend Regina suspect’s husband, a Nigerian citizen and another Canadian as part of same investigation.
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.
ARE MANY REASONS WHY MIGRANTS MIGHT PAY A SMUGGLER, SUCH AS THEIR KNOWLEDGE OF THE AREA.