Migrants undeterred by the perils of illegal entry


By Sabrina Almeida

The tragic end of the Gujarati family of four that froze to death near the US border in Manitoba has shaken Canadians, Americans, and Indians. Particularly because two kids were among them, the youngest was just three years old.

According to authorities, they likely became disoriented in the blizzard-like conditions before falling victim to the biting cold. Such a horrible and unnecessary end!

Did they fully comprehend the extreme conditions they would encounter as they attempted to walk across the border into the United States? I want to say no, believing that they wouldn’t have subjected their kids to that perilous journey if they really understood the weather. 

Most immigrants who’ve lived in tropical climates don’t have a clue of what “sub-zero” temperatures are really like. We’ve all learned from experience — how a few minutes outdoors in -20 or -30 can be excruciating even with the appropriate winter gear on. But unfortunately, there’s no do-over for them.

Will their excruciating end deter others from risking their lives in these clandestine operations? I doubt it!

Thousands of migrants have perished while crossing the desert or sea in the hope of a life free of persecution, poverty and/or violence. Their tragic deaths haven’t stopped others from undertaking similar journeys in search of a better life either.

But what compelling reason could have prompted this family from Gujarat to undertake this illegal journey? And why couldn’t they have been content to live in Canada if they were forced to leave India at all?

Indian media reports say that they likely paid at least Rs 1.5 crore (around $252,000) to an agent for the trip from India to Canada and then to be smuggled into the United States. That’s a hefty sum of money to shell out! But sources also told an Indian media outlet it’s the going rate for the job. Meaning there’s a demand for these services, so the human smugglers are calling the shots!!!

A report on the website of the US Department of Homeland Security titled “Human smuggling equals grave danger, big money” puts the entire criminal operation into perspective. Illegal migrants are (and will continue to be) ruthlessly exploited by criminals who do not guarantee their safe passage and are undeterred by the deadly outcomes because they’ve already been paid.

The conditions in which the Patel family (identified by Indian media) died have unsettled many, but what they were trying to do is not surprising at all.

While living south of the border, we learned of hundreds of Indian families that had come in and stayed on illegally. Coincidentally, several of them were from Gujarat and showed other family members how to go about it  once they had successfully entered the country.

Many have also been apprehended by security personnel on both sides of the US and Canada border while attempting to crossover illegally. A gentleman of Indian origin, known to a friend, hid in the trunk of a car going across the border around 20 years ago. US officials found him when they asked the driver to open the booth at the checkpoint. It seemed a highly risky and foolish thing to do at the time.

While border officials try to deter illegal migrants by saying they will be found and deported, many are still willing to risk it. And even though many are caught, hundreds have slipped under the radar.

Canadian border control officials told a media outlet that sneaking over country lines is more frequent than we know or acknowledge. It happens every couple of weeks or months and more in the summer than winter. It’s only terrible tragedies like this one that bring it back into the spotlight.

While foreign policy decisions might come under fire and be seen as the cause for most illegal migration around the world, it is unlikely to be the motivation for this Gujarati family and other Indians that have chosen this path of unlawful entry.

Can it be prevented? Probably not as long as there are people who are willing to risk any and everything to go to the United States.


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