Upside Down Under: Clever… until they’re caught…

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I was at my desk one day at The Kenmare News and the telephone rang. It was Karen Pauls of CBC-TV in Winnipeg. She was calling to ask me if I knew anything about some Nigerians who were hospitalized in Kenmare.


I hadn’t heard about such a thing and my first question to her was, “how do you know that?” Karen’s reply, “word gets around.” Needless to say I was quite surprised, but then got to thinking she must know people in Canada Customs and Border Protection who mentioned it.


Regardless, I was a bit embarrassed. Here was a big story right under my nose, literally two blocks away, and I missed it. However, she filled me in on what she had reported on channel 6 in the previous couple of days. We had a cordial conversation and we agreed to help each other.


She would get hold of me if something was happening on the Canadian side and I would contact her if there were developments here in North Dakota.


It turned out that Karen was following this beat because of Pembina’s proximity to Winnipeg and that Nigerians were sneaking across the border there to get into Canada.
In the Kenmare Hospital situation, it was actually a child who was kept for observation but the parents were treated and released. They were left near the border, in early January and were seen by Border Patrol agents wandering near a port of entry.


The Border Patrol picked them up and took them to the hospital in Kenmare for treatment. That was the beginning of an interesting beat that lasted a couple of years.


The way Karen described it to me, “coyotes,” or smugglers, would drive the Nigerian nationals from the Minneapolis airport to Pembina or St. Vincent, Minn., drop them off and they would walk across the border where someone would pick them up and take them to Winnipeg.


We never did find out exactly who dropped the Nigerians off near the Portal port of entry, but we have a pretty good idea.
There was a married couple living in Regina, she Canadian and he Nigerian. He would drive into North Dakota to pick up Nigerian nationals and she would pick them up as soon as they walked across the border into Saskatchewan. He would then go through a port of entry by himself and nobody was the wiser.


The woman took the Nigerian nationals to Regina where they would blend in with society, seeing how Regina has a sizable Nigerian community.


At one point, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was tipped off that this was going on. An undercover RCMP officer followed this man all the way to a Minot hotel where he surveilled nine Nigerians, including several children, getting into a van. The RCMP officer then followed the van into Burke County.


The Burke County Sheriff’s Department had already been alerted that a smuggling operation might be going down. The man dropped the Nigerians off near Northgate, N.D. They walked across the border to Northgate, Saskatchewan where the woman picked them up.


As soon as they began to drive away, RCMP and Canada Customs arrested her for smuggling people across the international boundary. When she was interrogated, they learned of her husband’s whereabouts and arrested him too.
When the RCMP searched their home in Regina, they found tens of thousands of U.S. and Canadian dollars in cash, confirming that this wasn’t an isolated incident.


Karen Pauls had already been reporting the same thing in the east, near Pembina and at St. Vincent, Minn., which is just a couple of miles from Emerson, Manitoba, where most of the Nigerian nationals entered Canada, but where many were also detained.


If it was the Regina couple who smuggled the Nigerian family that wound up in the Kenmare Hospital, then they were likely picked up in Minot, driven up U.S. Highway 52 into Burke County where they were dropped off.
The truly amazing part of this is how the Regina couple carried out this operation for the better part of two years without any red flags. None of us saw any clues until the Border Patrol picked up the Nigerian family.

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