Harboring an Undocumented Immigrant: A Federal Offense
With the change in federal immigration policies following the 2016 national election, the offense of harboring an undocumented immigrant may assume greater significance in the near future. This serious federal charge applies in a variety of situations. Potential fact scenarios in which a prosecutor might charge someone under the statute run the gamut from situations in which an individual stands accused of providing shelter or assistance to an illegal immigrant family member to cases in which the federal government accuses someone of engaging in egregious exploitation of an undocumented worker.
For instance, people who profit by knowingly smuggling undocumented workers across the borders of the United States potentially face charges under this statute. Yet a person who recklessly brings an undocumented worker into the United States to serve as a live-in servant might conceivably risk criminal charges under this provision, too. So might someone engaged in operating an illicit prostitution or human trafficking ring, or a defendant who maintains a business which houses and exploits illegal immigrant labor.
Potentially Significant Criminal Penalties
Title 8 of The United States Code, Chapter 12 Section 1324 et seq. sets forth criminal penalties imposed for the offense of bringing an illegal immigrant into the United States through an unauthorized port of entry, or for knowingly and recklessly disregarding this type of illicit entry into the United States by an alien. People who attempt to conceal an unauthorized entry also face criminal liability under the federal statute.
The potential breadth of the charge covers a wide variety of possible fact situations, motivations and behaviors. In most cases, defendants convicted of exploiting undocumented immigrants for profit would face far more serious penalties than defendants convicted of assisting an undocumented alien in the United States out of a misplaced sense of charity. A court sentencing a convicted defendant under this provision enjoys considerable sentencing latitude. For instance, a conviction permits the imposition of a variety of sanctions, including fines, imprisonment and civil forfeiture. The law specifies the most serious penalties should apply in cases of exploitation.
For example, imagine a situation in which a defendant knowingly sought to smuggle a group of undocumented workers across the border in a commercial truck. If during the process of entering the United States illegally several of the smuggled aliens perished, the defendant could face significant penalties under the federal statute which prohibits harboring an undocumented immigrant. Upon conviction, a court might conceivably impose a death sentence upon the defendant. Almost certainly a convicted defendant in this situation would risk significant time in jail, a steep fine, and the seizure of the commercial truck.
The law against harboring an undocumented immigrant basically seeks to protect vulnerable aliens from exploitation and harm. It also seeks to uphold the integrity of the United States immigration system, which requires official documentation and approval for foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States in most situations.
The Importance of Effective Legal Representation
Anyone accused of harboring an undocumented immigrant should consider seeking experienced legal representation. A conviction under the statute carries potentially significant penalties.
Retaining legal counsel in this situation could assist an accused individual in appreciating the specific nature of the criminal charges. Since the federal statute potentially applies in a wide variety of fact situations, sound legal advice could prove very helpful to someone accused under the provision. In criminal cases, an accused maintains the right to enter a guilty plea or a not guilty plea. With so much at stake, consulting with an experienced, knowledgeable criminal defense attorney at an early stage in the process may assist an accused person. Today, the complexity of the criminal justice system sometimes works to the detriment of people who do not seek qualified legal representation.
Raiser & Kenniff, P.C.
The criminal defense firm of Raiser & Kenniff, P.C. maintains a law practice in New York City. The firm draws upon the skills of former prosecutors. The firm sometimes represents defendants in federal criminal cases.