Gujarat man’s death on US border brings spotlight back on illegal migration scam

Updated on Dec 24, 2022 02:40 PM IST

The lure for better job opportunities overseas has been driving people of Gujarat to foreign lands by using illegal routes for many years now

A Gujarati man died on December 14 after he fell off a metal barrier on the US-Mexico border (also called the ‘Trump Wall’) while holding his three-year-old son, who survived. (Representative Image/AFP)
A Gujarati man died on December 14 after he fell off a metal barrier on the US-Mexico border (also called the ‘Trump Wall’) while holding his three-year-old son, who survived. (Representative Image/AFP)

A security guard at a housing colony in Chhatral town in Gujarat’s Gandhinagar district pointed out to the block at the end of the lane to an outsider looking for directions on Friday. “Ever since the news came out in local media on Friday about the death of a resident of our society in a foreign country, all kinds of people including government officials, media persons and police officials have been visiting this place. They are a good and respected family in this area,” he said.

There are close to 800 units in this housing society, painted in pale white and yellow and lies in the vicinity of Chhatral GIDC, an industrial estate that houses a number of manufacturing facilities.

The deceased, 36-year-old Brijkumar Yadav, earlier worked in GIDC, according to a police official. This was before the pursuit for better opportunities that seems to have driven him and his family by taking an illegal route that endangered their lives.

On December 14, Yadav died after he fell off a metal barrier on the United States-Mexico border (also called the ‘Trump Wall’) while holding his three-year-old son, who survived, according to a report by Daily Mail.

The victim was scaling over a 30-foot border fence while carrying his son when they fell to the ground on the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, it said.

His wife, who suffered a fractured hip and an arm injury, was rushed to a hospital in San Diego. Mexico’s National Institute of Migration said the couple and their son were among a group of 40 migrants who were trying to cross the US-Mexico border without legal documentation, according to Daily Mail.

“My brother and his family had gone for vacation on November 18. They told us that they were going to a foreign country. None of us has ever visited a foreign land and he was the first to go. On December 17, my brother’s wife Puja called us and told that he (Brijkumar) has died of heart attack. We are shattered,” said Vinod Yadav, 40, elder brother of the victim.

Brijkumar Yadav’s housing colony in Chhatral town.
Brijkumar Yadav’s housing colony in Chhatral town.

Brijkumar, his wife and his child, lived in a joint family of about eight members in a two-room flat in the housing colony.

Yadav’s parents keep themselves locked in a room for much of the time, terribly shook by the loss of their youngest child who had gone in search of better prospects. His father is retired as a telephone operator and elder brother is working with a private firm.

“We are aware of the incident and are verifying the details. An investigation is on in the matter,” said D K Praveena, Gandhinagar collector.

Deputy superintendent of police (DySP) P D Manwar of Kalol said the police have visited the family but they could not get much information as of now. “We can’t say much about the matter at this point. The family members don’t seem to know much about the exact cause of death,” according to Manwar.

Yadav said he got the news about his brother’s death after falling off the Trump Wall from news channels and he has not been able to contact his brother’s wife after December 17.

Three days before Brijkumar’s demise, the Gujarat police arrested the mastermind in the illegal immigration scam, Bobby alias Bharat Patel, from Ahmedabad.

Vinod Yadav, brother of Brijkumar Yadav.
Vinod Yadav, brother of Brijkumar Yadav.

Patel is believed to have arranged the infiltration of the Dingucha family, which froze to death on the Canada border while crossing into the US. His arrest, by the Gujarat police’s State Monitoring Cell (SMC) on December 14 was in connection with a gambling raid last year in July that was being run in Ahmedabad under the garb of a charitable trust.

The illegal immigration scam came to light in January this year following the ‘Dingucha’ tragedy in which four of a family froze to death in Canada while allegedly attempting to cross over illegally to the US. Dingucha is the name of the village, about 40km away from Ahmedabad and in Gandhinagar district, to which the family belonged.

The Gujarat police and state agencies began hunting for human traffickers after the Canadian police found Jagdish Patel, 35, his wife, Vaishali, 33, and their children Vihanga, 12, and Dharmik, 3, frozen to death in an empty field on January 19.

Using their contacts, Patel would establish that the illegal immigrants were in the foreign country only as tourists and then help them cross the border from Mexico or Canada and into the US, said police officers familiar with the matter.

Both Dingucha and Chhatral fall in Gandhinagar district and are separated by a distance of less than 15 km.

The lure for better job opportunities overseas has been driving people of Gujarat to foreign lands by using illegal routes for many years now. There would be scores of people in the entire stretch from Kadi, Kalol and up to Mehsana who have gone to the US and other European countries taking the illegal route, said a police official.

“Two of my friends from Kalol, both brothers, have successfully crossed the Mexico border about a year ago. They are well settled in the US today. They sold a piece of their agriculture land to pay to the agents who charge about 60 lakhs per person,” said a 30-year-old person who works at a textile company in Chhatral GIDC who did not wish to be named.

He claimed that they had to cross a forest and a mountain in their way to reach the Trump Wall. “He was told by his agent before taking the journey that he will have to walk in the forest for about 20 km, take the sea route by boat and also pass through a tunnel on foot, before reaching the Mexico border,” he said.

They were given some training about how to remain hungry for two to three days and travel in difficult terrains with luggage, he said.

Also, for those who do not have enough financial resources, money is also not much of an issue in these regions where there are enough financiers, who are willing to loan your foreign dreams. But it comes with a price.

“You may not easily get loan to set up a shop or open a small business. But if you have the right agent and the right kind of documents, there are many rich people who are ready to fund you for going to US. They will also use their links to get you a job there. Once you are settled, you will have to repay with hefty interest,” said a company executive who works with an IT firm in Gandhinagar.

On September 5, the Mehsana police booked 45 persons for their alleged involvement in an illegal immigration scam where ineligible students have acquired high International English Language Testing System (IELTS) scores to obtain admission in Canadian colleges so they can be smuggled into the United States. The police arrested three persons, including a student from Surat.

Those booked included a coaching class owner, chief executive officer of a private examination management and educational services company, staffers of a testing agency and 21 students.

The matter came to fore when there were reports that six persons from Gujarat who travelled to Canada on student visas were caught by the US agencies on April 28. They were caught while illegally crossing over to the US when their boat capsized in St Regis. They were rescued by the US and Canadian authorities.

Four of the six persons arrested by USA border customs - Nil Patel, Dhruv Patel, Urvish Patel and Savan Patel - were from different parts of Mehsana district in Gujarat. The other two were from Gandhinagar and Patan.

When they were produced before a court in the US, they were barely able to speak or write in English and needed a translator despite having cleared IELTS exam with a high score in the 6 to 8 band, the FIR stated. IELTS is an international standardised test of English language proficiency for non-native English speakers, with a good score being necessary for admission in reputed colleges in several countries.

During preliminary investigation it was found all had left for Canada from Ahmedabad on April 19, 2022.

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