Judge Jails Coyote for 9,000-Mile Operation from Indian Ocean

French gendarmes are at work to disembark migrants from a boat, on April 13, 2019 in Sainte-Rose, on the French Indian ocean island of La Reunion, after the boat, carrying some 120 migrants, allegedly from Sri Lanka, was intercepted by French authorities. (Photo by Richard BOUHET / AFP) (Photo credit …

A judge sentenced a coyote to just two-and-a-half years of prison for trying to smuggle more than 150 illegal migrants almost 9,000 miles to Florida from Sri Lanka, an island just off the coast of India.

Smuggler Sri Kajamukam Chelliah was arrested in 2019 with 154 would-be migrants in a boat off the island nation of Turks and Caicos, and he subsequently negotiated a plea bargain with the Department of Justice.

The ambitious smuggling operation spotlights the worldwide pressure on U.S. borders from poor people seeking higher wages and better lives. For example, Sri Lanka is almost 9,000 miles from Florida and is adjacent to India, where roughly 200 million young people live in deep poverty and frustration.

However, President Joe Biden’s deputies are using their legal authority to open many small doors on the border to help extract migrants from their home countries for use by companies in the U.S. economy. That is a sharp contrast with President Donald Trump’s support for Americans.

For example, Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, is extracting workers from Central America by allowing young male migrants to make repeated, no-penalty efforts to sneak through the U.S. border. That Mayorkas policy has helped smuggle 40,000 illegal migrants into the U.S. jobs, so reducing wages for Americans and also raising their rents.

Mayorkas is also allowing free entry to white-collar and blue-collar migrants from countries other than Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Those migrants have to file for asylum, but they can work before their court cases are heard after about two years and can appeal a denial afterward.

The migrant traffic from India is growing, in part, because Indian illegal migrants can find jobs in the growing community of Indian visa workers and immigrants. For example, the jailed smuggler, Chelliah, earlier got citizenship from Canada under its very lax rules.

Roughly four million Indians are living in the United States. Of those, about one-quarter were brought into to serve as white-collar contract-workers for the Fortune 500 companies, often by Indian-born hiring managers. At least one-seventh — about 600,000 — are illegal migrants, including many visa workers who have not been sent home after overstaying their visas.

The federal government does little to stop the inflow or even to penalize employers.

But officials do take some action to minimize the public’s growing concerns or their political embarrassment. A February 24 Department of Justice statement provided more details about the Trump-era Chelliah case, saying:

Admitted as part of the plea that from approximately October 2017 to approximately September 2019, six Sri Lankan nationals with no legal right to come to, enter, or reside in the United States, travelled from Sri Lanka to Haiti with the assistance of human smugglers. Upon arrival in Haiti, Chelliah arranged for the six individuals to be picked up at the airport and taken to a hotel. Chelliah arranged for the individuals to be housed and fed at the hotel, then travel by boat from Haiti to Turks and Caicos Islands and from Turks and Caicos Islands to the Bahamas. The six aliens would then travel from the Bahamas to Miami, Florida, by boat.

According to the plea agreement, on Oct. 10, 2019, the six aliens, accompanied by Chelliah, boarded a Haitian sloop sailboat heading for Turks and Caicos Islands. The Haitian sloop sailboat carrying approximately 154 aliens, including Chelliah, was subsequently interdicted by Turks and Caicos authorities. Chelliah was arrested and ultimately convicted in Turks and Caicos on local immigration charges and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. Following the completion of his prison sentence, he was placed in immigration detention in Turks and Caicos.

Chelliah was later arrested on July 28, 2020, by Turks and Caicos authorities, based on a provisional arrest request submitted by the United States premised on a sealed U.S. criminal complaint.

Similarly, the New York Times reported on a May 11 a lawsuit triggered by immigration lawyers against an Indian organization that smuggled at least 90 low-caste “Dalit” Indian workers to New Jersey for low-wage work:

They were brought to the United States on religious visas, or R-1 visas — temporary visas used for clergy and lay religious workers such as missionaries — and presented to the U.S. government as volunteers, according to the claim. They were asked to sign several documents, often in English, and instructed to tell U.S. embassy staffers that they were skilled carvers or decorative painters, the complaint said.

Lawyers for the men, however, said they did manual labor on the site, working nearly 13 hours a day lifting large stones, operating cranes and other heavy machinery, building roads and storm sewers, digging ditches and shoveling snow, all for the equivalent of about $450 per month. They were paid $50 in cash, with the rest deposited in accounts in India, the complaint said.

The lawsuit said the men’s passports had been confiscated, and they were confined to the fenced-in and guarded site, where they were forbidden from talking to visitors and religious volunteers. They subsisted on a bland diet of lentils and potatoes, and their pay was docked for minor violations, such as being seen without a helmet, according to the claim.

Many illegal migrants work very hard, partly because they face pressure from extended families, foreign banks, or criminals to repay their smuggling debts. But their legal — or temporarily legal — presence in U.S. workplaces undermines the economic clout of ordinary Americans in their national labor and housing markets.

For example, in an April 2021 article, the Dallas News interviewed Carlos Joaquin, a Guatemalan migrant who has worked lower-wage jobs for 80-hours per week to pay off his debts to the coyote smugglers:

Carlos Joaquin has grown more open and confident since he began sharing his story with The News. Having worked sometimes up to 80 hours a week, he says he’s managed to pay off his debts to the smuggler, a bank and relatives.

The article was amended on May 10 with a clarification: “This story has been changed to no longer state that Joaquin is an unauthorized immigrant. He has an asylum case pending in U.S. immigration courts.”

The deep public opposition to labor migration is built on the widespread recognition that legal and illegal migration moves money away from most Americans’ pocketbooks and families. Migration moves money from employees to employers, from families to investors, from young to old, from children to their parents, from homebuyers to investors, from technology to stoop labor, from red states to blue states, and from the central states to the coastal states such as New York.


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