WINDSOR, Ontario – A smuggling ring that sometimes forced migrants to hang on the sides of freight trains or be stuffed in car trunks to get across the Canadian-U.S. border was broken Tuesday with the arrests of 17 people, U.S. and Canadian authorities said.
"There was a complete disregard for the safety of these migrants, who paid thousands of dollars to the ring for the privilege of being treated worse than cattle," said Inspector Glenn Hanna of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
U.S. authorities said they intercepted 74 illegal immigrants — mostly from Asian and Eastern European countries — who were being smuggled into the United States from Canada. Canadian officials said 24 migrants were stopped going into their country.
The migrants face deportation. Most were trying to get from Toronto to New York City, officials said.
An indictment unsealed in Detroit described people riding on freight trains. Others rode over bridges and aboard ferries in car trunks or in the cargo trailers of semi-trucks, according to the indictment.
"We have no idea who were coming over," said Stephen Murphy, the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Michigan. "There was no screening done by immigration authorities before these people came into the United States. There could have been drug dealers, terrorists and God knows who coming in those boats, cars and trains."
The smuggling arrests, made in Toronto, Windsor and Michigan, resulted from a two-year investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Canada Border Services Agency. The people charged include residents of the Detroit area, Windsor, Toronto, Albion and Vicksburg, Mich., and Rockford, Ill.
A total of 23 people have been charged, and authorities said they expected to make more arrests.
The 11 charged in Canada are accused of human smuggling and conspiring to violate U.S. immigration laws, Hanna said. If convicted, they would face up to life in prison.
The 16 U.S. defendants are accused of conspiring to smuggle aliens, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.