In the Lone Star State, the issue of illegal immigration is a hot-button topic fraught with complexities and challenges. It’s an issue that elicits strong emotions, stirring deep empathy for those seeking a better life, but also deep concern for the rule of law and its enforcement.
Like many border states, there are specific Texas laws on harboring illegal immigrants in addition to ones put in place at a federal level. Broadly speaking, these laws prohibit any activity that knowingly assists undocumented individuals remaining in the U.S.
This includes providing shelter, employment, or transportation to anyone who has or is aiming to illegally enter the country, among other things. Understanding the specifics and implications of these laws can be a daunting task, and even the purest of intentions often land people just looking to help in contentious legal battles. In this article, Javier Guzman, an attorney for human smuggling in Texas and founding attorney of Guzman Law Firm, aims to break down and demystify these regulations.
What are the laws for harboring a fugitive in Texas?
In Texas, harboring an illegal alien falls under Texas Penal Code § 20.05, which is titled “Smuggling of Persons.” This legislation makes it an offense to intentionally use a vehicle or other means of transportation to conceal or harbor an individual from law enforcement detection, knowing that the individual is in the U.S. unlawfully.
On a Federal level, the harboring and smuggling of persons in Texas is addressed under Title 8 of the U.S. Code, Section 1324(a). This section of the law makes it a federal crime to knowingly harbor an illegal alien, with penalties including fines and imprisonment. The law defines “harboring” as any conduct that tends to substantially facilitate an alien in remaining in the U.S. illegally, such as providing shelter, employment, or transportation.
Additional charges for violations related to immigration
In addition to the laws mentioned above, there are additional violations that can arise from knowingly harboring illegal immigrants in Texas. Other illegal immigration laws related to undocumented immigrants include:
- Domestic transporting: This makes it a crime to transport an individual who is knowingly in the country illegallyor another person who intends to further their illegal presence. (Read more on the punishments for bringing people across the border).
- Encouraging or inducing: This section makes it an offense to knowingly encourage or induce an alien to come into the United States illegally. (Read more about the punishment for crossing the border illegally).
- Aiding and abetting: This section refers to any support provided to an individual who is or has been, illegally in the U.S. Additionally, it applies to anyone encouraging or inducing others into harboring illegal immigrants.
- Conspiracy: Under this law, any person who conspires with others to commit illegal immigration offenses may face criminal charges.
- Illegal hiring: Under the Immigration Reform and Control Act, it’s unlawful for any employer to knowingly hire or continue to employ an unauthorized alien.
- Document fraud: This section of U.S. law makes it illegal to forge, counterfeit, alter, or use false documents in attempts to satisfy legal requirements related to legal immigration.
- Marriage: Marriage fraud is a criminal offense. This law prohibits U.S. citizens from entering into marriage with an undocumented immigrant for the purpose of securing their legal status and mandates that the marriage be entered in good faith.
Unfortunately, these vague and broad laws can lead to confusion, false accusations, and serious criminal charges. For example, someone may be charged with harboring an illegal immigrant if they unknowingly rent a room to an undocumented person. To learn more about all offenses under Title 8 of the U.S. Code, Section 1324(a), you can head to the Department of Justice Archives website.
Penalties for harboring illegal immigrants
The penalties for violating Texas’ laws on harboring illegal immigrants depend on the specifics of the case. Charges for harboring illegal immigrants can range from misdemeanors to felonies depending on several factors including:
- The number of individuals harbored
- Whether there was intent to assist in illegal activities
- If any financial gain was involved
- Whether you are charged by the state or a federal court
If you were acting for profit and are charged at a federal level, you may face fines of up to $250,000 and a maximum of ten years in prison. If the crime involved serious bodily injury or placed an individual in danger of death, you can even face a life sentence. However, if the crime was not committed for any financial gain, you would likely face fines of up to $250,000 and a maximum of five years in prison.
Alternatively, if you are charged under the Texas statute, you could face felony charges, subject to 2 – 20 years imprisonment and up to $10,000 in fines.
Punishment for hiring and/or housing illegal immigrants in Texas
Under federal law, knowingly offering employment to an undocumented immigrant is considered to be harboring and can result in criminal charges. However, Texas has its own set of laws for businesses that hire illegal immigrants.
Employers found guilty of violating the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) can face severe punishments for hiring illegal immigrants in Texas, including monetary fines that can reach $3,000 for each unauthorized worker, and up to six months imprisonment. The same laws apply in Texas and could lead to both criminal charges and losing your business license.
Similar sentiments can be applied to housing an illegal immigrant with civil penalties of up to $10,000 for each alien harbored. At the same time, criminal charges may lead to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. The severity of your charge will depend on whether you’re charged under state or federal law.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re charged with harboring or hiring an illegal immigrant, or whether you’ll face charges in a state or federal court, the punishments are uniformly severe. The complexities of being charged with federal crimes mean that you need to work with an experienced and tenacious federal criminal lawyer if you want a chance to retain your freedom.
Call Guzman Law Firm for strategic defense against human smuggling allegations
Both federal and local Texas laws on harboring illegal immigrants are strict and come with penalties that can significantly impact your life as well as the lives of those you are accused of trying to help. Whether you’re an employer who’s been falsely accused of illegal hiring practices or have unknowingly sheltered undocumented immigrants, we urge you to seek legal advice from someone that is knowledgeable in these cases before charges for human smuggling change the course of your life.
At Guzman Law Firm, we have successful experience in representing clients charged with human trafficking and smuggling offenses, providing you with legal defense strategies to combat any charges you’re facing. When you need a Laredo federal defense attorney, Guzman Law Firm should be your first call.
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