Forum News Service
By Adam Kertz
Federal lawmakers in Minnesota are looking for answers in the wake of the deaths of a family who froze to death trying to cross into the United States from Canada, in a rural part of the state.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, in a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, has requested information about the investigation into the incident of alleged human smuggling that occurred on Jan. 19 , and his department’s plans to combat that crime. Sen. Tina Smith, a Democrat, is also in contact with the department about the incident.
In the Jan. 19 incident, seven Indian nationals were apprehended after having walked across the border in blizzard conditions. A family of four, believed to be a part of that group, likely died of exposure before they could make it across the border.
Steve Shand, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was arrested and charged with human smuggling after he was caught by Border Patrol agents with two members of that group in a rented van. Agents encountered the five other members of that group shortly thereafter. Shand was granted a conditional release from detention on Jan. 24, by a federal judge in Minnesota.
Klobuchar stressed the need for federal cooperation with local law enforcement agencies, to prevent human smuggling and trafficking.
“I have long advocated for the expansion of federal anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling efforts,” wrote Klobuchar. “As a former prosecutor, I know how important it is for the federal government to closely coordinate with state and tribal law enforcement, as well as with international governments, to combat this threat and to provide resources to officials working on the front lines of the fight against smuggling and trafficking.”
Smith is also in touch with Homeland Security about the Jan. 19 case, according to a message from her office.
“Senator Smith has consistently supported funding and resources to combat human smuggling and trafficking at the northern border, and has strongly advocated for northern border staffing and support,” reads a portion of that message.
Klobuchar’s letter poses several questions to Mayorkas, including Homeland Security’s efforts to identify human smugglers along the northern border, as well as how the agency coordinates with the Canadian government, as well as tribal nations near the northern border.
Klobuchar asked about the challenges Homeland Security is facing as it attempts to stop human smuggling, and whether any legislative action needs to be taken by congress to address those challenges. She also asked if the agency requires additional resources for the border with Canada.
Klobuchar wrote that she supports a Biden administration program launched in April 2021 that targets smuggling operations, but that further efforts to tackle the issue are needed.
“I appreciate the administration's actions to stop human smuggling and trafficking, including its creation of Operation Sentinel, a counter-network targeting operation focused on stopping the smuggling of vulnerable people across the border,” she wrote. “At the same time, this tragic incident illustrates that there is more work to be done.”
Klobuchar has worked on several pieces of anti-trafficking legislation, including an act in 2019 that addresses the use of drugs to facilitate human trafficking. She was also a sponsor of the bipartisan Abolish Human Trafficking Act, which was signed into law in 2018. The law strengthens support for survivors of trafficking, while providing resources to law enforcement. She has worked on legislation that addresses human trafficking being carried out on airplanes, in commercial vehicles, and the use of the internet in sex trafficking.