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Stopping Immigrants on the U.S.-Canada Border

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

The first National Guard troops assigned to help stop illegal immigration are deployed today along the Mexican border. Well, what about Canada, where 17 terrorism suspects were arrested this weekend?

As Tom Banse reports, surveillance on that border is relatively low-key.

TOM BANSE reporting:

Something just didn't seem right to Border Patrol agents. One late evening in early April, it's before tourist season, a motor home passes driving south from Canada. The man at the wheel avoids eye contact.

Patrol Agent SENTHA FIGUEROA (Patrol Agent in Charge, Bonners ferry): At this time of night, a rental vehicle out of California in the middle of winter, that's got all the red flags up.

Unidentified Man #1: (On radio) Bravo 16, Bravo 14.

Unidentified Man #2: (On radio) That's (unintelligible) 10-41 and like, 4088.

BANSE: Patrol Agent in Charge Sentha Figueroa recounts what happened next on the highway shoulder, outside Bonners Ferry. One of the biggest human smuggling busts in the inland northwest followed simple questioning of the driver.

Patrol Agent FIGUEROA: And is there anybody else in the vehicle with you?

Unidentified Man: Got a few.

Patrol Agent FIGUEROA: And yes, got a few people in the back. Who are they? Don't know. Just picked them up. Can we take a look in the back? And they gave consent. So opened it up, and there were all the people.

BANSE: Thirteen South Korean women and one man, from young to middle age.

Patrol Agent FIGUEROA: And they're all laying down so they can be seen. And already tried to run. They had no idea where they were. A change of clothes is all they had with them.

BANSE: This would be a slow night where Figueroa previously worked on the Mexican border. But here, facing Canada, it's the biggest deal in months. Last year, U.S. border agents arrested about 7,300 illegal immigrants along the Canadian border, including Chinese, Pakistanis, Indians, and some Canadians. That's small potatoes compared to the million-plus Mexicans crossing the southern border annually.

Nonetheless, one wonders why migrants would leave Canada?

Ms. DANIELA RESH (Human Trafficking Project Coordinator, Refugee Women's Alliance): It's so interesting that, why don't they stay in Canada? Why are they - I mean, Canada is a great nation as well. It has a great economic value just as much as the United States.

BANSE: Daniela Resh of the Refugee Women's Alliance in Seattle, explains South Koreans can visit Canada without a visa. But she says for some, America has a magnetic pull that keeps them going south.

Ms. RESH: I think there's something to do - and I've noticed this with other trafficking clients that we've had - is that there's this glamorization of America, where they see these images of very wealthy people. And America is where it's at.

BANSE: Other nationalities who get smuggled across the northern border need a visa, even to get into Canada. They paid dearly for the long and arduous journey. But in their favor, the migrants find good cover amongst the large Asian immigrant communities in Canada's big cities. The latest major bust by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement involved more than 50 citizens of India and Pakistan. Agent in Charge in Seattle, Leigh Winchell, says smugglers charge them up to $36,000 a head.

Patrol Agent LEIGH WINCHELL (Agent in Charge, Seattle): The principles of the organization arrange for fraudulent documents to smuggle individuals first into Canada, into the Toronto Airport via commercial aircraft. Moved into western Canada and Lower British Columbia, and held in what we call stash houses or load houses. Then they would take them out into the rural areas and move them across the border in those rural areas.

BANSE: Winchell says the smuggling ring they busted has no known terrorist links. But they fear that a terrorist could take advantage of the porous border persists. The big Immigration and Border Security Bill passed by the Senate authorizes 14,000 additional Border Patrol agents. Lawmakers from northern states insist that a minimum of 20 percent of the new positions be assigned to the Canadian border.

For NPR News, I'm Tom Banse near Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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