Alien Smuggling & Harboring Illegal Aliens

illegal alien smuggling across border fenceIn Arizona, and particularly in Tucson, harboring, transporting, and smuggling illegal immigrants is a common federal crime.  Under 8 U.S.C. § 1324 it is illegal to bring in, transport, harbor or conceal an “alien” knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that the alien has entered or remained in the United States illegally.  This crime is generally referred to as “alien smuggling”.

Defendant’s charged with this crime are typically: “coyotes” who are hired by illegal immigrants to guide them across the border and through the desert; drivers who are hired to transport illegal immigrants from one place to another within the United States; and stash house owners or operators who temporarily house illegal immigrants as they travel to their final destination within the United States.  However, it is also illegal to “encourage or induce” an immigrant to enter or reside in the U.S. in violation of law, so even those who give aid to illegal immigrants for humanitarian reasons can be charged with this crime.

The maximum penalties for a violation of 8 U.S.C. 1324 depend on whether the defendant brings, or attempts to bring the immigrant into the U.S., whether the offense was committed for profit or for humanitarian reasons, and whether the defendant put an immigrant at risk of injury or death.

Maximum Penalties For Alien Smuggling

  • 5 Years — for transporting, harboring, or encouraging an illegal immigrant (not for profit)
  • 10 Years — for transporting, harboring, or encouraging an illegal immigrant for profit; bringing or attempting to bring into the U.S. (bringing or attempting to bring an alien into the U.S. for profit also carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 3 years!)
  • 20 Years — if bodily injury or risk of death results from the offense
  • Death or Life in Prison — if death results during the offense

Defenses To Alien Smuggling

In Arizona, these cases often proceed quickly once an arrest is made.  The “aliens” are usually detained as “material witnesses”, but only until their video deposition can be taken.  Depositions are typically scheduled only a couple of weeks after the initial appearance.  Thus, the defense must quickly obtain and review the government’s evidence and conduct any necessary investigation in order to prepare for the depositions.  These depositions are later played for the jury instead of live testimony from the aliens themselves, so it is important to conduct a thorough deposition.

One of the main defenses in these cases is a lack of knowledge.  The statute requires that the offender knows that the people he is dealing with are actually illegal immigrants.  It is difficult to prove that a defendant must have known that the people with him were illegal immigrants based solely on their appearance.  Often the aliens themselves, when deposed, will not testify that they had an explicit conversation with the defendant about their immigration status.  Sometimes, depending on the evidence, a defendant can successfully assert that he was actually one of the aliens being smuggled rather than the smuggler.  Another, less common defense is that the government cannot prove that the aliens were actually illegal immigrants.

Sentencing Factors

The actual sentence a defendant receives for this type of crime is usually much less than the maximums listed above.  The sentence depends on a number of factors, some of which are set forth in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.  Some things that can increase a sentence include whether: the defendant brought the alien(s) into the United State for profit; an alien(s) was put at risk (often when an alien is placed in a trunk or when an offender drives recklessly); an alien(s) was threatened or coerced; a firearm is discharged, brandished, or possessed; an alien(s) is being harbored for prostitution; a large number of aliens are involved; the defendant has prior convictions, especially when the convictions are for immigration offenses; or an alien is a child and is unaccompanied by a parent or grandparent.

If you are facing alien smuggling charges in Arizona, including transportation of illegal aliens or harboring or illegal aliens, call us for a free, confidential case assessment at 520.314.4125 or contact us online.