An Indian citizen who had been living in Ontario has pled guilty in an American court on Friday to smuggling foreign nationals from India into the U.S. in 2020 and 2021.
Simranjit Singh, 40, had been arrested in Ontario in June 2022 and was extradited from Canada to the U.S. in March.
“In pleading guilty, Singh admitted that from at least March of 2020 through March of 2021, he facilitated the smuggling of numerous Indian nationals from Canada into the United States, via Cornwall Island and the Akwesasne Mohawk Indian Reservation in the St. Lawrence River region, for profit,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of New York stated in a press release Friday.
Singh, who was a resident of Brampton, Ont., is facing at least five years in prison, but could also receive up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to US$250,000, and three years of supervised release. He pled guilty to “alien smuggling and conspiracy to commit alien smuggling,” according to the press release.
He will also be facing deportation from the U.S. after his sentence is served, based on the decision of an immigration judge.
Experts say this case reveals a glimpse into how the human smuggling trade operates, and how migrants can be exploited into paying exorbitant fees.
U.S. authorities say Singh “facilitated the smuggling of numerous Indian nationals” across the border through Cornwall Island and Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, which lies between Quebec, Ontario and New York state.
According to documents released in April, some migrants who say their entry into the U.S. was facilitated by Singh told American law enforcement that he charged them between $5,000 and $35,000,
These documents detailed conversations between Singh and contacts, including one referred to as CW-1 who, on one occasion, dropped off three Indian citizens at a motel in New York and then travelled to Cornwall to meet Singh and collect $4,000 in pay.
CW-1 then became nervous that the motel room was in her name, according to the documents, and returned to the motel to pick up the three people. U.S. Border Patrol agents chased her car after all four left the hotel and arrested them.
On another occasion, Singh allegedly bragged to a contact that he had smuggled more than 1,000 people into the U.S. or Canada.
According to the press release, Singh is scheduled to appear before a judge at the end of December.
Authorities say Akwesasne’s geography makes it a popular but dangerous route for smugglers. Back in March, the bodies of four Indian and four Romanian migrants were pulled from the St. Lawrence River in Akwesasne. The body of 30-year-old Casey Oakes was also found in the water earlier this month, and police say Oakes was “connected to the eight deceased victims.”
In March, Canada and the U.S. agreed to a deal aiming to stop asylum seekers coming to Canada through unofficial border crossings, something which could drive up risky crossings and schemes such as the one Singh is accused of running, critics have warned.
With files from The Canadian Press and CTV News Toronto.