Florida man charged with smuggling migrants into US to be conditionally released
A Florida man accused of smuggling Indian migrants who crossed through a freezing snowstorm into the US from Canada last week was granted conditional release in a hearing on Monday.
Steve Shand, who appeared via video feed from a Minneapolis jail, was arrested by US border patrol the same day Royal Canadian Mounted Police found the bodies of four people, including a baby, frozen to death in the Manitoba snow meters from the US border of Minnesota.
Shand, who waived his right to a probable cause hearing, will remain in custody until plans are made for his return home to Deltona, Florida. The US District Court for the District of Minnesota said conditions of Shand's release include restrictions on travel and the surrender of any travel documents, as well as his promise to appear in court as required. The court did not specify when he would be released.
US authorities charged Shand with smuggling two people — Gujarati-speaking Indian nationals that US border patrol agents found with him in a 15-person white rental van driving through blowing snow Wednesday morning. Authorities suspect he is involved in a larger smuggling operation, the charge documents say.
Authorities believe the four deceased people were separated from another group of five Indians who were travelling on foot in the snow as they tried to cross the border. That group of five was also apprehended Wednesday.
The group of five had new-looking winter gear that matched Shand's, the documents say, and their boots matched boot-prints from people who walked across the border last month, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security special agent John Stanley.
One woman walking had to be hospitalised for frostbite and may have part of her hand amputated, authorities said.
“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 charge document reads.
One of the men picked up by border patrol reportedly said he had obtained a fraudulent Canadian student visa and intended to meet his uncle in Chicago.
Shauna Labman, a human rights professor who studies migration at the University of Winnipeg, said going south from Canada into the US is less common than the opposite direction.
The US is usually easier to get to, by land or air, and Canada is generally seen as having fairer refugee policies, she said.
“The news is upsetting but it's also not surprising: It is a risk that we know occurs. ... Our border policies force people into dangerous crossings.”