What is alien smuggling?

Alien smuggling is federal crime. It is also a common event on the southern border of the United States. Especially in places like Del Rio, Eagle Pass, El Paso, and Laredo. It happens when smugglers bring migrants with no papers into the United States.

But how do you know if someone is an alien smuggler? Or put a different way, how does the government prove someone is an alien smuggler? That’s the question many clients arrested for this crime ask. And the answer to this question will help a person decide if he should plead guilty or go to trial.

Surprisingly, alien smuggling covers a wide range of conduct. This means a person can break the law by:

  1. Bringing aliens into the country;
  2. Transporting aliens within the country;
  3. Harboring or hiding aliens within the country;
  4. Encouraging aliens to enter the country;
  5. Conspiring with others to commit these crimes; and
  6. Aiding and abetting others to commit these crimes.

These are the six ways the government can prove someone is an alien smuggler.

In short, the government must show a person had the criminal intent to commit one or more of these acts. And specifically, it means the person must have a guilty mind when he committed these acts. Or that he entered into a deal with other people to break this law.

What are examples of alien smuggling?

Examples of alien-smuggling include:

  1. Foot guides: Foot guides lead migrants through the brush to avoid border-patrol checkpoints;
  2. Stash-house operators: They hold migrants in houses, apartments, or motels during the smuggling trip. They also provide food and water for the migrants. And they coordinate with other smugglers to schedule pickup and drop off times for the migrants;
  3. Money couriers: They collect smuggling fees from migrants. They also wire money to other smugglers in the United States and Mexico; and
  4. Drivers: Drivers secretly move migrants in their cars, trucks, or semis.

Notably, each smuggler plays a different role in the joint venture. But they all work together to achieve the same goal.

Consequently, prosecutors can charge smugglers with more than one crime. For instance, prosecutors can charge a smuggler with transporting aliens and conspiracy to transport aliens.

What are the penalties for alien smuggling?

The table below lists the jail terms for alien smuggling. Of major interest, these penalties increase for three reasons.

First, if the migrant paid a smuggling fee, then the max penalty for the smuggler goes from 5 years to 10 years. Second, if the smuggler causes another person serious injury, then the max penalty is 20 years. Finally, if anyone died during the crime, then the max penalty is either life in jail or even the death penalty.

The death penalty in alien-smuggling cases is rare. It almost never happens. But prosecutors consider this option when the smugglers’ conduct causes the death of the migrants.

However, these penalties only represent the worst case scenario. And in most cases, smugglers do not get the top jail term. In fact, judges usually give smugglers a guideline sentence. These jail terms are often well below the max penalties for smuggling.

Penalties for Alien Smuggling

STATUTEDESCRIPTIONMAX PENALTYFINESPECIAL ASSESSMENT
8 USC § 1324(B)(ii)Transporting, harboring, concealing, or encouraging aliens to enter into the United States without financial gain.

Also includes aiding and abetting the commission of these acts.
Up to 5 years in prison.Up to a $250,000.00.$5,000.00 special assessment possible under the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015.
8 USC § 1324(B)(i)Transporting, harboring, or encouraging aliens to enter the United States for financial gain.Up to 10 years in prison.Up to a $250,000.00.$5,000.00 special assessment possible under the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015.
8 USC § 1324(B)(iii)The defendant causes another person serious bodily injury or places another person’s life in jeopardy.Up to 20 years in prison.Up to a $250,000.00.$5,000.00 special assessment possible under the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015.
8 USC § 1324(B)(iv)The crime results in the death of any person.Death penalty or life in prison possible.Up to a $250,000.00.$5,000.00 special assessment possible under the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015.
The table lists the maximum penalties for alien smuggling. Notably, the table contains three aggravating factors that increase the range of punishment. They are financial gain, serious bodily injury, and death. If any of these factors are present, then the penalty range will increase for alien smuggling.

What are the alien-smuggling guidelines?

USSG § 2L1.1 is the alien-smuggling guideline. It list the base-offense level for alien smuggling as 12. This is the starting point for all alien-smuggling sentences. The base-offense level may go up or down. The final number will depend on several factors.

To illustrate how this guideline works, let’s assume the smuggler has no criminal history. This means he will have an offense level of 12 and be in Criminal History Category I. This information allows us to calculate a guideline range.

In this scenario, the sentencing table shows his guideline range is 10-16 months in jail. In particular, this is where the base-offense level and the criminal-history category meet on the sentencing table. Also, if the smuggler pleads guilty, then his offense level will drop by two points. Thus, his guideline range will go from 10-16 months to 6-12 months in jail.

But most important of all, these guideline ranges are only estimates. The judge does not have to follow the guidelines. The judge can give a smuggler more time. Or he can give the smuggler less time.

In fact, the law requires a judge to do three things. First, the judge must calculate the guidelines. Second, the judge must consider the policy statements in the guidelines. And last of all, the judge must consider important factors before he decides on a jail term.

What are other factors that increase a jail term for alien smugglers?

The jail term may increase if certain facts are present. For example, the base offense level increases when:

  • The number of aliens smuggled is between 6 and 24. The level increases by 3 points;
  • The number of aliens smuggled is between 25 and 99. The level increases by 6 points;
  • If the defendant smuggled more than 100 aliens, then the level increases by 9 points.
  • If the defendant smuggled a child who traveled without his or her parents. The level increases by 4 points; and if
  • The defendant possessed a gun during the crime. The level increases by 2 points.

These are just a few examples of factors that increase a jail term for alien smugglers. The guidelines contain more bumps to the offense level.

Therefore, it is helpful to review the guidelines before a defendant decides to plead guilty or go to trial. This helps for two reasons. First, it protects clients from unwanted surprises. By getting an estimate of the guidelines upfront, the client will know what he or she is signing up for.

Second, reviewing the guidelines helps clients gauge the risk of going to trial. In some cases, there is not a big difference in jail time between pleading guilty and going to trial. In these situations, clients sometimes go to trial because the reward outweighs the risk.

What to expect when you speak with a San Antonio Federal Criminal Defense Attorney about your case?

Alien smuggling covers a wide range of criminal conduct. It includes foot guides, drivers, money couriers, and stash-house operators. Most importantly, the penalties for alien smuggling increase if certain facts are present. For these reasons, anyone charged with alien smuggling should speak with a qualified defense attorney.

The consultation should cover several topics. Specifically, the defense attorney should review the top jail terms for alien smuggling with you. Next, the attorney should review the guidelines with you. And then give you an estimate of your possible jail term.

Finally, your attorney should give you an honest and objective assessment about the facts of your case. And he or she should do it without scaring you about your options. This is critical because you need to think through your options carefully. Above all, you should use the consultation to answer the most important question of all: Is this lawyer a good fit for me and my case?

Attorney Genaro Cortez

Law Office of Genaro R. Cortez, P.L.L.C.

730 West Hildebrand Avenue
Suite 2,
San Antonio, Texas 78212
Phone: 210-733-7575
Fax: 210-733-7578
Email: genaro.cortez@cortezlawyer.org