Investigations are going on into the death of a family of four Indian nationals, including an infant, along the United States-Canada border and into a larger human smuggling operation, as seven other Indians, believed to be from Gujarat and illegally present in the US, have been arrested.
A criminal complaint has been filed on Thursday in the US District Court for the District of Minnesota against 47-year-old US citizen Steve Shand, who has been charged with human smuggling.
Shand, a 'suspected smuggler of undocumented foreign nationals', was arrested near the US/Canadian border on January 19 for transporting two Indian nationals, who were illegally present in the US.
The two Indian nationals have been identified as 'SP' and 'YP' in the complaint.
The complaint said that five Indian nationals 'illegally present in the United States were also identified and arrested' around the time of Shand's arrest.
'All the foreign nationals spoke Gujarati, a language spoken in Gujarat in western India. Most had limited or no English language speaking ability,' the complaint said, adding that 'there are significant Gujarati populations outside of India, including in Canada and the US'.
While Shand and the two passengers were being transported to the Pembina Border Patrol Station in North Dakota, law enforcement encountered five additional Indian nationals approximately a quarter mile south of the Canadian border walking in the direction of where Shand was arrested.
They appeared to be headed to an unstaffed gas plant located in St Vincent, Minnesota.
The family of four Indian nationals, including an infant, froze to death along the US-Canada border in what authorities believe was a failed crossing attempt during a freezing blizzard.
Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy, Commanding Officer of the Manitoba Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said at a press conference that RCMP officers discovered the bodies of three individuals -- an adult male, adult female and an infant -- on the Canadian side of the border.
Fearing there may be additional victims, officers continued their search and located the body of another male -- believed at this time to be a teen.
The five Indian nationals told authorities that they had walked across the border expecting to be picked up by someone.
They said they had been walking around for over 11 hours. One of the group members was carrying a backpack that did not belong to him. He told authorities that he was carrying the backpack for a family of four Indian nationals that had earlier walked with his group but had separated during the night.
The backpack contained children's clothes, a diaper, toys, and some children's medication.
According to court documents, later during the day on January 19, USBP received a report from the RCMP that four bodies were found frozen just inside the Canadian side of the international border.
The dead bodies were tentatively identified as the family of four that was separated.
The criminal complaint against Shand said that 'the investigation into the death of the four individuals in Canada is ongoing along with an investigation into a larger human smuggling operation of which Shand is suspected of being a part'.
The complaint also added that one of the Indian nationals apprehended provided limited information to Border Patrol.
'He reported that he paid a significant amount of money to enter Canada from India under fraudulently obtained student visa. He did not intend to study in Canada but rather to illegally enter the United States. He had crossed the border into the United States on foot and had expected to be picked up by an individual who would drive him to his uncle's residence in Chicago,' it said.
MacLatchy said that anyone who is thinking of crossing the border in Manitoba, either heading south or north should not do it.
"Do not listen to anyone who tells you they can get you to your destination safely. They can't. Even with the proper clothing, it is not a journey that is possible.
"This morning, taking the severe wind chill into account, it was -41 degrees Celsius in the Emerson area. At this temperature, your skin will freeze in minutes. I understand there may be a great need to get to another country, but this is not the way. You will be risking your life and the lives of the people you care about." the officer said.
"I am saddened there was loss of life and the fact a small child died makes it even more difficult. Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones," said Grand Forks Sector Chief Patrol Agent Anthony S Good.
"Anyone thinking of crossing the border illegally in these treacherous conditions should not do it. Smugglers only care about the money they are going to make and have zero regard for lives lost," Good said.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Friday expressed shock at the death of the family of four Indian nationals.
'Shocked by the report that 4 Indian nationals, including an infant, have lost their lives at the Canada-US border. Have asked our Ambassadors in the US and Canada to urgently respond to the situation,' Jaishankar tweeted.
Jaishankar spoke to India's Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu and India's High Commissioner in Canada Ajay Bisaria.
Ambassador Sandhu said it was an unfortunate and tragic incident.
'We are in touch with US authorities on their ongoing investigation. A consular team from @IndiainChicago is travelling today to Minnesota to coordinate and provide any assistance required,' he tweeted.
India's High Commissioner in Canada Bisaria said it was a grave tragedy.
'An Indian consular team is travelling today from @IndiainToronto to Manitoba to coordinate and help,' he tweeted.
'We will work with Canadian authorities to investigate these disturbing events,' he wrote.