Monday, July 4, 2011

Cameras foil illegal border crossings at river (Detroit Free Press)

Cameras foil illegal border crossings at river

1:32 AM, Jul. 2, 2011


The Czech in the Speedo wasn't a first.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) -- which is deporting a man to the Czech Republic after he was caught this week trying to swim into the U.S. from Canada -- says illegal immigrants have been trying to sneak across the Detroit and St. Clair rivers since Prohibition.

They've tried to swim across, zoom in by Jet Ski or drift in by boat -- the most popular method, agents say.

The difference now, though, is Big Brother has a better view of their tactics.

Last June, the CBP installed a $20-million surveillance system along a 34-mile stretch of the St. Clair River, where a network of cameras and 11 towers have foiled at least four human smuggling attempts. The cases involve immigrants from Israel, India and Ireland, all of whom tried to sneak in by boat.

In one case, cameras saw a boat drop a person off near a restaurant in Algonac in October. The individual turned out to be a previously deported illegal immigrant.

"People will continue to try to get in. We can't stop that," agent Chris Grogan said. "But we are doing whatever we can do to stop them. They realize that we're there, and we're going to get 'em."

On Wednesday, Algonac fisherman Brad Pedersen, 26, reeled in an illegal immigrant hiding in the St. Clair River. Pedersen was fishing with a buddy for walleye when he spotted what looked like a stump. It turned out to be a backpack.

"We got a little closer, and attached to the backpack was a Czechoslovakian guy wearing a Speedo," Pederson said. "We thought he was dead at first because he was hiding. He came up. He said he was just swimming."

Some attempts to get across the river have ended tragically.

For example, an Albanian woman and her 23-year-old son tried to use Jet Skis to get into the U.S. across the Detroit River in 2005. The son's Jet Ski capsized, and he drowned.

Federal authorities note that Michigan, with all of its waterways large and small, is a magnet for immigrants looking for ways to creep in and out of the country. Finding them is no easy feat, they note.

"It's a very complex system. ... You have lakes that are akin to seas -- they're humongous. And then there are rivers that in the winter months you can walk across," said Kyle Niemi, a chief petty officer with the 9th U.S. Coast Guard District in Cleveland, which covers Michigan's waterways. "It's a fragile system."

Larger human smuggling operations try to take advantage of it, said Brian Moskowitz, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement, which investigates smuggling networks.

"People need to be careful," Moskowitz said. "Not only do they face us, but they face some very real personal dangers."

No comments: