The problem with human smuggling is starting to overflow into Idaho.
On Tuesday, two men – one Korean and the other Korean Canadian – were charged in the U.S. District Court of Idaho with knowingly transporting illegal aliens within the United States. They and the 13 Korean women who they allegedly smuggled over the Canadian border last weekend are being held in Shoshone County Jail.
The women and one other man are being held as material witnesses in the case and are likely to be deported as soon as they are interviewed by attorneys.
It’s the second time in four months that assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Cook has had a case of human smuggling involving Koreans in North Idaho, she said. Also, one of the defendants – Sang Yoon Kim, 28, of Vancouver, B.C. – told Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Benjamin Donahue that he had made three prior trips to smuggle Koreans from Idaho to Los Angeles in the last three months, according to Donahue’s affidavit.
The charges come less than a week after the Idaho legislators decided to form an interim committee to study the problem of human trafficking in Idaho – from the problem of Mexican “baby” brides being sold to men in southern Idaho to the alleged border crossings by young brides for the polygamous Bountiful community near Creston, B.C.
While Cook and immigration officials have no proof that the 13 Korean women arrested last weekend were destined to be coerced into a commercial sex operation in California, Cook said her office is concerned that’s a possibility.
The 13 women, from the baby-faced to middle-aged, filed into the courtroom cuffed together, and all but one wore the green smocks of the Shoshone County Jail. The one who was dressed in street clothes walked with a limp from a recent injury. They were being held in jail because the U.S. government considers them a flight risk, U.S. District Court Judge Larry M. Boyle told them through an interpreter.
“Sometimes they’re misled,” Donahue said during a break in federal court proceedings Tuesday. “Even though they’re in handcuffs … this may be beneficial to them.”
Since border security tightened west of the Cascades, authorities have been seeing more smuggling of Koreans east of the mountains, The Spokesman-Review reported in 2003. Many of the women smuggled over, according to the report, agree to pay up to $10,000 apiece to be smuggled, but once they get here, they are subjected to debt-bondage and are forced into prostitution by organized crime rings.
Kim and fellow defendant Bum Suk Kim of Korea were arrested early Sunday.
Sang Yoon Kim was driving a recreational vehicle south on U.S. Highway 95 when it was stopped by U.S. Border Patrol agents around 12:30 a.m. The Bonners Ferry Border Patrol Station had been put on alert for the possible illegal entry of South Korean nationals, according to Donahue’s affidavit, because of a tip passed on by Canadian authorities.
Agents stopped the RV several miles north of Three-Mile Junction, and as one spoke with the nervous and shaking driver, another noticed the windows of the RV were steamed, according to the affidavit. They found more than a dozen women lying on the floor and the side bed of the RV.
Sang Yoon Kim told the Border Patrol that he had picked up his passengers just south of the Moyie River Bridge south of the Eastport Port of Entry, and that an “unknown male” had guided them across the border from Canada, according to the affidavit.
Kim told Donahue that he had flown from Vancouver, B.C., to Los Angeles on March 31 and met up with Bum Suk Kim there. They rented an RV on April 1 and headed to Idaho, according to the affidavit. Sang Yoon Kim dropped Bum Suk Kim at the Coeur d’Alene Casino and Resort and made plans to pick him up on his way back south.
At Donahue’s request, the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office arrested Bum Suk Kim Sunday.
Sang Yoon Kim and Bum Suk Kim admitted to Donahue that they worked for a smuggling organization. Sang Yoon Kim said he was paid $200 per person and $4,000 for expenses, and Bum Suk Kim said he was paid $300 to $350 per person, according to the affidavit.
At their first court appearance Tuesday, the two men waived their right to a preliminary hearing, and Bum Suk Kim, who needed the assistance of an interpreter, also waived his detention hearing. Each faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine if found guilty.
In December, Cook said she had a case that involved two men, one a Korean national and the other a Korean Canadian, who brought in six “girls” over the border. Cook recently reached a plea agreement in that case, but the defendants have yet to be sentenced.
In Eastern Washington, most of the smugglers are not prosecuted but are caught and deported by the U.S. Border Patrol, said Tom Rice, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Spokane.
Whether the smuggling cases cross over to trafficking is uncertain. Trafficking involves the use of coercion.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 600,000 to 800,000 victims are trafficked across international borders worldwide. Up to 17,500 of those are trafficked into the United States, and many of them are exploited for commercial sex, according to the agency.