Border Patrol arrests Canadian accused of smuggling undocumented immigrants from India into U.S.

Rachel Alexander and Nina Culver

The Spokesman-Review

U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested a Canadian citizen earlier this month who is accused of smuggling five undocumented immigrants from India into the country.

The five crossed the border near Molson, Washington, on Feb. 8 and were picked up in a van driven by Canadian Mohammed Khan, said James Frackelton, spokesman for the Border Patrol Spokane Sector. They were found on 9 Mile Road, which runs close to the border.

Steve Hormel, an immigration attorney representing the group from India, said they were from Gujarat, India’s westernmost state and the home of Mohandas Gandhi. At a bail hearing before a judge, the group said they intended to file for asylum in the U.S, though Hormel said he did not know the details of their claim.

Finding a translator for the group who spoke Gujarati was difficult, Hormel said.

Khan had crossed into the U.S. the day before, telling border agents that he was coming to the country to visit residents, Frackelton said. “He lied to come in, essentially,” he said.

Typically illegal immigrants cross the border on foot and meet with someone at a pre-arranged location who drives them into the country, said Frackelton, who noted that Tonasket is a long walk from the border.

Detaining large groups of illegal immigrants near the U.S.-Canada border in that area isn’t very common, Frackelton said.

“We do pretty much catch mostly dope,” he said. “We do catch folks, but this is a significant group.”

The five Indians will appear before an immigration judge who will determine if they can stay in the United States. If they’re approved for asylum, they'll be allowed to remain and typically given a path to permanent residency.

Hormel said lawyers are trying to find housing for the group so they can be released from the Spokane County Jail pending their hearing. If their asylum claim is denied, they could be charged with illegally entering the U.S., a petty offense.

In 2014, 2,277 Indians applied for asylum in the U.S. Just 372 had their claims approved, according to Justice Department statistics, while 293 were denied and others are still pending or were abandoned.

The number of Indians applying for asylum has increased nearly every year since 2010, when just 731 Indians applied. The reasons for that increase are debated, though a number of Indians stopped on the U.S.-Mexico border have said they are Sikhs being persecuted by India’s Hindu majority.

Khan is being charged with alien smuggling and will be deported as a felon if he is convicted, Frackelton said.