By Bethany Blankley

(The Center Square) – Investigations into human smuggling stemming from illegal immigration reveal that not everyone makes it safely to the U.S.

Open border policies that incentivize foreign cartels’ estimated $100 million in weekly human smuggling operations across the southern border are illegal and inhumane, attorneys general who’ve recently sued the Biden administration argue. While they maintain the administration is facilitating the crime of human trafficking, the White House announced a national plan to combat human trafficking in December and maintains its immigration policies are more humane and fairer than the previous administrations.

Last June, the U.S. Department of Justice launched a joint task force involving multiple federal agencies to combat the trafficking of people illegally to the U.S. from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico.

An investigation involving agents from U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE’s HSI) unit, working with Guatemalan National Police and Guatemala’s Prosecutor for Illicit Migrant Trafficking, recently led to the arrest of 10 Guatemalan nationals. They were connected to the murders of 19 foreign nationals in a human smuggling event that occurred in Tamaulipas, Mexico, in January 2021. Sixteen of those killed were Guatemalan nationals.

“This joint transnational operation targeting a major human smuggling organization shows the importance of both governments collaborating to apprehend the individuals responsible and hold them accountable for transporting these noncitizens enroute (sic) to the United States, which ultimately led to their deaths,” HSI acting Regional Attaché for the Northern Triangle Carlos Gamarra said in a statement.

As part of the investigation, agents seized foreign and U.S. currency totaling roughly $203,000, in addition to five vehicles, 61 illegal gambling machines, one firearm, ammunition and various electronic devices.

HSI task force investigations are in addition to the interdiction efforts performed by Border Patrol agents on a daily basis.

HSI also recently announced the arrest of a U.S. citizen and resident of Florida who was charged with human smuggling at the northern border.

While much attention has been focused on the southern border, the northern border with Canada is in many ways considered to be even more wide open than the southern border is. With far fewer resources to patrol remote, rural areas in between border check points, illegal immigrants often walk unhindered from Canada into the U.S. But brutal winter weather often makes their attempts unsuccessful.

While not part of the DOJ joint task force operation, HSI agents in North Dakota responded to a request for assistance from U.S. Border Patrol agents who’d apprehended a human smuggler. Of the 20 Border Patrol sectors in the U.S., North Dakota is in the Grand Forks Sector with 22 official ports of entry.

Its Pembina Station Border Patrol agents, who were performing routine duties, initiated a traffic stop of a 15-passenger van less than one mile south of the U.S.-Canadian border. The van was stopped in a rural area between the official ports of entry of Lancaster, Minnesota, and Pembina. Agents learned that the driver, Steve Shand, 47, of Florida, allegedly was transporting Indian foreign nationals who’d entered the U.S. illegally.

Border Patrol agents arrested Shand for alleged human smuggling. While transporting Shand and the passengers to the Pembina Station, the agents encountered five additional illegal Indian foreign nationals a quarter mile south of the Canadian border walking in the direction of where Shand had been arrested. The Indian nationals said they’d walked across the northern border expecting to be picked up by someone and were reportedly heading to Minnesota, according to a report from ICE. Two individuals had suffered serious injuries and were transported to a hospital.

The group estimated they’d been walking for over 11 hours. One was carrying a backpack that belonged to a family of four Indian nationals who were also part of the group but were separated during the night.

The agents later learned from Royal Canadian Mounted Police that the four individuals who’d been separated were found just inside the Canadian border. They were all dead. At the time, the temperature in North Dakota fluctuated between 11 and 16 degrees Fahrenheit.

Acting Special Agent in Charge Jamie Holt of HSI St. Paul said, “These losses could have been prevented were it not for individuals concerned more for their own greed rather than the safety of others. HSI remains committed to working with our law enforcement partners, and utilizing our unique investigative authorities, to bring to justice those responsible for tragedies like this.”

Shand was charged with one count of “knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien had come to, entered, or remained in the United States in violation of law, having transported, and moved or having attempted to transport and move such aliens.”

If convicted, those charged with human smuggling face up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, or both.

In fiscal 2021, ICE’s HSI arrested 2,360 individuals connected to human trafficking operations nationwide, and identified more than 720 victims who were offered assistance.

Anyone suspecting human trafficking is encouraged to report it to local law enforcement or to ICE at ice.gov/tipline or 866-347-2423.

Originally published by The Center Square