WASHINGTON — After four family members were found frozen to death along the U.S.-Canada border, Sen. Amy Klobuchar wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security asking for more information about how they're combatting human smuggling.
In the letter, Sen. Klobuchar asked a series of questions, including what the department is doing to identify individuals involved in human smuggling, and what steps, if any, Congress could do to help.
"I have long advocated for the expansion of federal anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling efforts. As a former prosecutor, I know how important it is for the federal government to closely coordinate with state and tribal law enforcement, as well as with international governments, to combat this threat and to provide resources to officials working on the front lines of the fight against smuggling and trafficking.," Sen. Klobuchar said in her letter.
Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Manitoba told KARE 11 in a phone interview last week that a man, woman, teenage boy and infant were found east of Emerson, Manitoba, on the Canadian side of the border where North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota converge.
The four people, believed to be part of the same family, appear to have died from exposure to the dangerously cold weather and had come within about 30 feet of the U.S. border. The wind chill was around -40 degrees Celsius, MacLatchy said, which is so cold that it’s the equivalent temperature to Fahrenheit.
According to a criminal complaint, investigators believe the four family members may have become separated from a larger group of India natives, all working with an individual, later identified as 47-year-old Steve Shand, to cross into the United States in northwestern Minnesota. Special Agent John Stanley wrote that “most had limited or no English language speaking ability” and appeared to hail from Gujarat, a state in western India. One of the migrants told investigators that “he paid a significant amount of money to enter Canada from India under a fraudulently obtained student visa,” with the goal of crossing into the U.S. to reunite with an uncle in Chicago.
It is not clear from the criminal complaint how Shand, who is charged with human smuggling, became connected with the family members, but investigators said they believe he’s involved in a “larger human smuggling operation.” Shand appeared in federal court on Monday, but no further court dates have been set and he was given an order for release without bond. He will be released with restrictions “when transportation is coordinated,” according to a federal court spokesperson. Shand declined to speak with investigators, according to the criminal complaint.
There is no exact data on human smuggling, but federal statistics show there is much more border activity in the South as opposed to the North. In fiscal year 2021, the government reported more than 1.7 million “encounters” at the Southwest land border, compared to just 27,000 on the Northern land border.
Although human smuggling attempts are less common in parts of northern Minnesota or North Dakota, they can still pose incredible risks to immigrants because of the frigid temperatures. Last week, the wind chill hovered around negative 40 degrees.
“I appreciate the Administration’s actions to stop human smuggling and trafficking, including its creation of Operation Sentinel, a counter-network targeting operation focused on stopping the smuggling of vulnerable people across the border. At the same time, this tragic incident illustrates that there is more work to be done," Sen. Klobuchar's letter reads.