It is no secret that many people enter the United States illegally each year. Sometimes, they do so to try to escape violence and crime in their home country. Sometimes, they do so to try to find a better life. Sometimes, they do so to be reunited with family or loved ones who are already in the United States.
It is very common for people who enter the United States illegally to pay for the services of people who offer to help them cross the border without being found, and transport them from the border to where they are going. If a person is caught helping people cross the border illegally, or transporting persons who entered illegally within the United States, they can be charged with the federal crime of alien smuggling.
This is not surprising. But what about people who do not help the aliens cross the border or transport them to their destination? Can they be prosecuted for alien smuggling? The answer is, “Yes.”
Under federal law, anyone who knowingly or recklessly brings someone into the United States illegally, transports such a person within the United States, or hides such a person within the United States, can be prosecuted for alien smuggling. See 8 U.S.C. section 1324. But anyone who arranges for, helps, or assists one or more people who smuggle aliens can also be prosecuted for conspiracy to smuggle aliens.
For example, if a person pays a smuggler a fee to bring aliens into the United States illegally, that person can be prosecuted even though they did not bring the aliens across the border or take them to their destination. The same is true if a person arranges for persons to be smuggled illegally into the United States. Doing these things is a crime even if the person arranging for, or paying for, the smuggling had good intentions, such as helping reunite a family or helping people to find work.
The current political climate in the United States is more anti-immigration than it has been in many years. The United States Justice Department is now prosecuting alien smuggling cases aggressively, and the penalties can be severe.
If you, or a loved one, is charged with alien smuggling, it is critical that you hire an experienced federal immigration defense attorney to protect the rights of the accused. There are many ways to defend an alien smuggling case, including:
-Lack of knowledge or intent that the persons transported entered the United States illegally.
-Lack of proof of involvement.
-Lack of proof of a “conspiracy”
Even if a person is convicted at trial of, or pleads guilty to, alien smuggling, a skilled federal criminal defense lawyer can make arguments and present evidence that may reduce the punishment of the accused. For example, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines increase the recommended punishment range based on the number of aliens smuggled. The Government may overstate this number, and if this happens, it can be crucial to show the judge that the Government has provided an incorrect number. The Government may also claim that a person should get a longer sentence as an “organizer or leader” of people who smuggled aliens, but if the people who were supposedly organized or led were actually working for someone else, a judge should reject this argument.
Some lawyers will not stand up to the Government and call them out when they are wrong. If you or a loved one is accused of alien smuggling, you should contact a federal criminal defense attorney who has experience with immigration crimes and who is not afraid to fight for the rights of the accused.