What is the Difference Between Smuggling and Trafficking?

Person trapped in an illegally smuggled container

Do you know the difference between smuggling and trafficking laws in Texas? The distinction between the two is critical due to the massive difference in punishment and intent between these crimes, Texas’ long border with Mexico, and its notable trafficking problem. Knowing the difference between the two crimes can help to prevent unknowing participation in these crimes, ensure protection for victims, and combat these unlawful activities more effectively.

In its simplest explanation, the difference between human smuggling vs trafficking is that smuggling involves bringing people across the border with no designs on their activities after the act of smuggling. In contrast, trafficking is a form of exploitation or abuse where people are smuggled before being forced to do certain things, such as work or engage in sexual activities.

Texas has enacted tough laws to address these issues, with harsh penalties for violations even for those who don’t know they’re committing a crime. Staying informed can help to prevent serious legal repercussions and prevent you from being an unwitting accomplice in a serious federal crime.

How is smuggling different from human trafficking?

While human smuggling and human trafficking may seem similar at first glance, there are significant differences between the two. One of the main distinctions is that smuggling is often a consensual act and requires crossing an international border, whereas trafficking requires force, fraud, or coercion, and involves any movement of those individuals, even if they’re only being moved a street away.

Human smuggling

So, exactly what is human smuggling? According to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), human smuggling charges in Texas typically involve an agreement between the person being smuggled and the smuggler. The smuggled individual is aware of their journey across the US border and willingly participates, usually in exchange for payment. This act of smuggling immigrants is illegal because it violates immigration laws, but it does not always involve exploitation or abuse. 

Charges for human smuggling can include:

Continue learning about Texas laws on harboring illegal immigrants.

Human trafficking

On the other hand, human trafficking involves exploiting and controlling victims for profit. Victims of trafficking are often deceived or coerced into situations where they are forced to work or engage in sexual activities against their will. Unlike smuggling, trafficking is not consensual, and victims are often unaware of the true nature of their situation. Individuals can also be trafficked across international borders, internationally, or even from one city to its neighboring city. 

What are the legal consequences for human smuggling and trafficking in Texas?

Texas has strict penalties regardless of whether you’re being charged with human trafficking vs human smuggling offenses. The severity of punishment depends on various factors, such as the number of people involved, the level of violence or coercion used, and the type of exploitation. In general, however, the penalties for trafficking are much more severe than the punishment for crossing the border illegally or helping someone cross the border illegally.

It is important to note that regardless of whether one knowingly participated in human smuggling or trafficking, one can still face significant legal consequences. This is why it is essential to understand the differences between these two crimes and hire an aggressive Laredo federal criminal defense lawyer if you’re facing any type of immigration-related charges.

Punishments for human smuggling

In Texas, the penalties for human smuggling are as follows:

  • Smuggling for profit can result in up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
  • Smuggling not for profit can result in imprisonment for a maximum of 5 years and fines of up to $250,000. 

However, if serious bodily injury or death occurs during the smuggling process, the penalties can increase to life imprisonment or even the death penalty in extreme cases. Additional punishments for human smuggling can include asset forfeiture, deportation for non-US citizens, and a permanent criminal record.

Punishments for human trafficking

In contrast, human trafficking is a state and federal crime with even harsher punishments. In Texas, human trafficking is charged as a second-degree felony and can result in 20 years to life imprisonment for labor trafficking and up to 99 years in prison for sex trafficking. Charges for human trafficking can also come with additional penalties, such as fines, asset forfeiture, and mandatory registration as a sex offender for life.

Facing charges for human smuggling in Texas? You need trial-tested representation, and fast.

While both charges involve the movement of people, the differences between smuggling and trafficking are vast, and the legal consequences are always severe. The simplest way to remember the difference is this: smuggling is often a consensual act involving border crossing, whereas trafficking is characterized by exploitation and coercion, independent of geographical boundaries. 

If you or a loved one are facing human smuggling charges in Texas, you need to call Javier Guzman, founding attorney of Guzman Law Firm and skilled attorney for human smuggling charges in Texas. With nearly a decade of experience in criminal law, Javier knows exactly how to handle your case and will work tirelessly to provide you with the best defense possible and protect your rights every step of the way.

Don’t wait until it’s too late, call us today at (956) 333-3977 or contact us online to schedule a consultation. 

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