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London Free Press Business Section:


Fears of smuggling ease

But patrols along borders in the area remain on alert for illegal migrants.
RANDY RICHMOND, Free Press Reporter   2004-01-16 03:36:18  

Despite high-level fears about smuggling along the St. Clair River and an arrest last week, the U.S.-Canada border in the region appears quiet -- for now at least. Smuggling of migrants across the river has dropped the last few months after a particularly busy couple of years, said Stan Rosas, assistant chief of the U.S. Border Patrol covering the Detroit sector.

"It has kind of slowed down to a stop."

Smuggling slowed immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, officials say.

But activity jumped up in 2002, Rosas said yesterday.

The border patrol stopped about 70 to 80 migrants in 2002 compared to about 300 the year before, and were busy again the first part of 2003.

The last four or five months have seen a slowdown in activity.

"I guess Canada is doing a better job keeping them out of our country," Rosas said.

The RCMP isn't going to tempt fate and take credit for a slowdown just yet, said Const. Chuck Stevens, based in Sarnia.

"There are a whole bunch of variables," said Stevens,who is part of the two-country Integrated Border Enforcement Team formed after the terrorist attacks.

Weather, ice conditions in the river and changes in smuggling operations further up the chain can affect St. Clair River traffic, Stevens said.

"It may indicate a trend or it may have to do with the time of the year."

This week, border police found five people trying to flee a railway lumber car in Sarnia.

Four of the five were Chinese and police suspect they were trying to get into the U.S. illegally. Police are looking for two other people who fled, Stevens said yesterday.

The arrests occurred only four days after U.S. homeland security chief Tom Ridge said the river was a potential pathway for terrorism.

"It's still clear to all it's a pathway for human smuggling, and if it's a pathway for human smuggling, it could be a pathway for terrorists," Ridge told reporters after a Jan. 9 helicopter tour of the St. Clair River.

Ridge said the St. Clair River, which runs from Sarnia to Walpole Island, may require more anti-terrorist resources.

The border patrol along the river has already grown to 40 agents from about eight, he said.

Michigan officials have lobbied for greater federal aid, noting the river has eight water plants, four power-generating plants and 50 kilometres of natural gas pipelines.

The river has long been a conduit for smuggling people and goods between the U.S. and Canada.

Several large police busts over the last five years seemed to stall, but not stop, the migrant smuggling.

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