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Canadian officials work to identify remains of Indian family who died feet from border

Assisting the RCMP is a team from the Indian consulate in Toronto, Ontario. The team was dispatched to Winnipeg on Jan. 21, according to a tweet from Ajay Bisaria, the high commissioner of India to Canada. Bisaria called the deaths of the four individuals, including an infant and a boy believed to be a teenager, “disturbing.”

Emerson-1.jpg
Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police search the area east of Emerson, Manitoba on Wednesday, Jan. 19, for additional victims, after discovering four people who died of apparent exposure.
Submitted / Royal Canadian Mounted Police
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GRAND FORKS — The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are continuing their efforts to identify the family of four Indian nationals who froze to death before they were able to walk across the U.S.-Canadian border in a rural area in northwest Minnesota on Jan. 19.

Assisting the RCMP is a team from the Indian consulate in Toronto, Ontario. The team was dispatched to Winnipeg on Jan. 21, according to a tweet from Ajay Bisaria, the high commissioner of India to Canada. Bisaria called the deaths of the four individuals, including an infant and a boy believed to be a teenager, “disturbing.”

The family was part of a group of 11 Indian nationals who attempted to walk across the border east of Pembina in freezing conditions. Agents with the U.S. Border Patrol arrested Steve Shand , a Florida resident, after they found him driving a van with two of the people who crossed the border. They later found five others walking in the area. Two people were taken to a hospital for cold-weather related injuries.

Border Patrol agents alerted the RCMP after they discovered one of the individuals was carrying items needed by an infant, and no infant was with the group. The RCMP found the bodies of the family shortly thereafter.

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Shand was charged with human smuggling, and was granted a conditional release from detention by a U.S. magistrate in Minnesota on Jan. 24. Shand was born in Jamaica and became a naturalized citizen in 2010, according to an affidavit by a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations.

According to a Jan. 24 report in the Winnipeg Free Press , some news outlets in India were reporting possible names of the four people who died. Some websites also published a photo purported to be of the family.

The RCMP, in an updated news release on Jan. 24, said they are aware that some news outlets were publishing possible names of the people who died, but they are still working to confirm their identities. No names will be released by the RCMP until the Indian nationals have been identified.

“Our investigators are working closely with the office of the chief medical examiner of Manitoba and pursuing other investigative avenues to confirm the names,” reads a portion of the RCMP release. “We are also in regular contact with Indian consular officials who have arrived in Manitoba. Once the identities have been confirmed, our priority will be to formally notify the next of kin.”

The Herald reached out to several Indian organizations in Manitoba, including the Hindu Society of Manitoba, but those calls and messages were not returned.

David Marcus, a Border Patrol agent with the Grand Forks sector, said because the seven remaining Indian nationals crossed the border illegally, they have been administratively processed for removal from the United States.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, there is a visa for people who have been trafficked into the country. Some of those people may be allowed to stay, to help with an investigation or prosecution of a trafficker. They may later be granted permanent residency visas if they meet certain criteria. The Indian nationals were not trafficked into the country, however.

“In this instance, the migrants who were rescued knowingly and intentionally broke our immigration laws, therefore, they were processed accordingly as per the Immigration and Nationality Act,” Marcus told the Herald.

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Prior to the group of Indian citizens crossing the border last Wednesday, Border Patrol agents believe two other incidents of human smuggling happened on Dec. 12 and 22, last year, in the area where Sand was arrested. According to court documents in Shand’s case, agents believe eight people were picked up and driven away from the area.

Marcus said agents in the Pembina area patrol 99 miles of border. They use trail cameras and sensors to detect human movement, as well as their regular patrols. They also rely on residents in border towns.

“The people who live in the border communities know when something (or) someone is out of place,” Marcus said.

Related Topics: U.S.-CANADIAN BORDER
Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

Desk: 701-780-1110
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