Border Patrol nabs 9 on river raft
News Staff Reporter
An inflatable raft overloaded with nine passengers crossed the Niagara River from Canada and landed on Grand Island in the early morning darkness Saturday.

When they set foot on the shore along West River Parkway, a federal agent was there to greet - and promptly arrest - them.

Three women from India, a Pakistani family of four and two Canadians were taken into custody, according to Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Dan Allman, who said they were probably trying to enter the country in search of work.

"The agent was out on routine patrol, and he saw the raft coming across. It was a clear night," Allman said, adding that other agents were summoned to the foot of Whitehaven Road at about 4 a.m. to assist.

Seven of the individuals ferried across the river will face criminal and administrative charges of illegally entering the United States, and one of the Canadians will be charged with smuggling. Their court appearance is scheduled for Monday in U.S. District Court, when it is expected their names will be made public.

One of the Pakistani couple's two young children was born in the United States and will not face legal action because she is an American citizen, Allman said.

The raft, powered by a small engine, "was well beyond its capacity" in the number of passengers it was designed to hold, the agent said. It is a common practice of smugglers to sneak illegal immigrants into the country by crossing the river, said Assistant U.S. Border Patrol Chief Don Palacios of the agency's Buffalo office.

"This is pretty much standard operation. The rafts they use are not of commercial quality, and there is always the fear of them being overloaded or completely falling apart," Palacios said.

More than a decade ago, three illegal Asian immigrants drowned when their raft sank in the lower Niagara River. The smuggler escaped but was later caught by Canadian authorities, convicted and sentenced to prison.

Saturday's interception, Palacios said, can be credited to more intensive patrolling of the region's border since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"We've increased our personnel, and almost all have been assigned to watching the border," Palacios said. "This is just another example of their dedication and hard work."