June 13th, 2024

Human smugglers used B.C. freight trains to move people across border, U.S. says

By The Canadian Press on May 28, 2024.

Trains are seen as cargo containers sit idle on rail tracks in Delta, B.C., on Friday, July 7, 2023. The U.S. Department of Justice in Washington State says two men are facing human smuggling charges for their alleged role in a scheme to get people across the Canada-U.S. border in B.C. on freight trains. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER – The U.S. Department of Justice says two men are facing human smuggling charges in Seattle for their alleged role in what it calls a dangerous scheme to transport people out of British Columbia and across the border on freight trains.

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington Tessa Gorman says Jesus Ortiz-Plata, 45, of Oregon and Juan Pablo Cuellar Medina, 35, of Washington were arrested last week, along with three non-citizens who were allegedly smuggled out of Canada.

Gorman says Ortiz-Plata and Medina employed “an extremely dangerous smuggling scheme,” and that in one case last August, 29 people were rescued from a freight car filled with plastic pellets.

An affidavit by a U.S. Homeland Security officer says 28 were Mexican nationals and one was Colombian guiding the group, whose presence was noticed around 1 a.m. when border officers saw anomalies in an X-ray of the car.

Court documents outlining the charges filed in Seattle on Friday say Ortiz-Plata and Medina came to the attention of investigators last July, after Border Patrol agents identified a phone number associated with “numerous human smuggling events” through Blaine, Wash., dating back to September 2022.

The Homeland Security investigator’s affidavit says Ortiz-Plata and Medina were arrested on May 23, after being tracked by law enforcement agents to an apartment complex in Everett where they believe the pair picked up non-citizens seeking unlawful entry into the U.S.

“Being locked in a freight train car is dangerous ““ there is no control over the heat, cold, or ventilation, and people can be injured or killed by shifting freight,” Gorman said in a news release.

Ortiz-Plata and Medina face up to 10 years in prison.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2024.

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