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Dozens of people smuggled in freight trains across B.C. border into U.S., officials say

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Authorities in the United States have arrested two men accused of using freight trains to smuggle dozens of people out of British Columbia and into the U.S. in what officials described as an "extremely dangerous" criminal conspiracy.

In one of several instances documented in the case, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the Peace Arch border crossing south of Vancouver noticed anomalies when they X-rayed a railcar crossing the border in the middle of the night.

When the officials searched the suspicious car, they found 28 Mexican nationals and one Colombian concealed inside a load of bulk plastic pellets, according to an affidavit sworn in a Seattle courtroom Friday.

Less than two months later, Peace Arch border officials stopped another freight train crossing in the night and found 13 Mexican nationals aboard, two of whom confessed to paying one of the suspects $8,000 to get them from B.C. to Oregon, police said.

Jesus Ortiz-Plata, 45, of Oregon, and 35-year-old Juan Pablo Cuellar Medina, of Washington were arrested Thursday alongside three other migrants suspected of being smuggled across the B.C.-Washington border.

The two men are charged with conspiracy to commit illegal transportation of a non-citizen for private financial gain. If convicted, the men could each face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

"These defendants have allegedly been linked to an extremely dangerous smuggling scheme where people are loaded into freight cars on trains traveling from Canada into the U.S.," said U.S. Attorney Tessa Gorman in a statement.

"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," she added.

American authorities had been tracking Ortiz-Plata since late 2022 and believe that he worked with Medina to smuggle migrants across the border and temporarily house them in hotels and apartments before moving them throughout the U.S.

The affidavit alleges migrants from Mexico, South America and India would enter Canada and travel to the Vancouver area where they would pay the alleged smugglers for passage into the U.S.

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