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U.S., Canadian officials bust alleged international smuggling ring

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. immigration authorities and Canadian police have broken up an international smuggling ring accused of bringing hundreds of illegal Chinese immigrants into the United States via Canada.

The arrests of eight people in Canada and another 23 in the United States culminated a 12-month joint investigation, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said. Warrants for 10 more arrests have been issued.

The operation, dubbed Project Othello, was conducted by the RCMP, Toronto police and Canadian and U.S. immigration authorities. U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and Doris Meissner, commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, were scheduled to release details about the operation on Thursday.

"We have shut down a major organization here," said RCMP spokeswoman Constable Michele Paradis. She said authorities were unable to determine exactly how many immigrants may have been smuggled into the United States by the ring.

At its peak, the ring carried out 33 smuggling runs into the United States over a 60-day period, the RCMP said. The number of people smuggled on each trip ranged from 8 to 24.

Using fraudulent documents, authorities said the immigrants traveled to Canada from China. Once in Canada, they claimed refugee status and were housed by the ring in the Toronto area. They remained there until they paid part of the smuggling fee with wages from work arranged by the smugglers.

Once the immigrants reached Toronto, they then were taken to the United States through the St. Regis Mohawk Indian Reservation, which straddles the New York-Ontario border.

Many of the illegal immigrants reportedly were taken to New York City, where the smugglers forced them to work off fees amounting to as much as $40,000.

The arrests come two weeks after U.S. immigration agents broke up a cartel accused of smuggling more than 12,000 illegal immigrants from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Syria into the United States through Russia, Cuba and the Bahamas. They were smuggled into the country at the request of businesses looking for cheap labor. The employers paid $20,000 per immigrant.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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