Illegal Alien Smuggling

Illegal Alien Smuggling, or “Human Smuggling,” involves illegally bringing aliens across the border into the United States. A similar and related offense is Human Trafficking, which involves transporting individuals into or within the United States for the purpose of sexual slavery or forced labor. This discussion will be limited to illegal alien smuggling.

Understanding the Charge

Human smuggling is a federal crime under 8 USC §1324, which makes it a crime for any person to knowingly bring or attempts to bring a person who is alien into the United States at any place other than the designated port of entry, or transport or attempt to transport or move a person who is an alien within the United States, or to conceal and harbor, or attempt to conceal and harbor an alien, or to encourage or induce an alien to enter or reside in the United States, or who conspires to do, or aids and abets any of these things.

Penalties of a Conviction

The punishments are severe, and include the following sentences for EACH alien smuggled:

  • For bringing, or attempting to bring, an alien into the United States, or for conspiring in any of the illegal acts, if the purpose of the offense was for commercial advantage or private financial gain, the defendant may be fined, and imprisoned for up to 10 years.
  • For transporting, moving, or attempting to transport or move an alien, or for concealing, harboring, or shielding, or attempting to conceal, harbor, or shield an alien, or encouraging or inducing an alien to come to, enter, or reside in the United States, or for aiding and abetting any such acts, if convicted the defendant may be fined, and imprisoned for up to five years.
  • If any of these violations to place, and in relation to the violations the defendant causes serious bodily injury, or places the life of any other person in jeopardy, if convicted the defendant will be fined and imprisoned for up to twenty years.
  • If any of these violations take place, and result in the death of any person, if convicted the defendant will be punished by death, and imprisonment for any term of years, or for life.
  • Sentences may be increased by up to ten years if the offense was part of an ongoing commercial organization or enterprise, if the aliens were transported in groups of 10 or more, if the aliens were transported in a manner that endangered their lives, or if the aliens presented a life-threatening health risk to the people in the United States.
  • The government may seize any vessel, vehicle, or aircraft that is or has been used in the commission of any of these offenses, any proceeds of the violation, and any property traced to the proceeds.

Defending the Charge

Because of the severity of the penalties if convicted of human smuggling, the charges must be defended assertively by an experienced attorney. William R. Burgener is prepared to use his skills to defend you or your loved one, whether the goal is a favorable plea bargain, a dismissal, or an acquittal. Facing these charges is intimidating and overwhelming, but a conviction is not guaranteed, especially when a solid defense can be presented by an adept attorney:

  • Duress, coercion, or compulsion: When a defendant was forced to commit a crime against their will, even if all the other elements of the crime can be met, there can be no conviction. The Court must consider what a reasonable person would do under the same circumstances. If the defendant was threatened with immediate death or serious bodily injury, or such a threat was made against another person, such as a family member, and the defendant has a well-founded fear the threat would be carried out, and there was no reasonable opportunity to escape the harm, the defense can be used against a human smuggling charge. If the defendant was forced to bring the alien across the border, or to transport or conceal the Alien within the United States because of duress, coercion, or compulsion, they cannot be found guilty of the crime.
  • Beat an element of the charge: In order to convict a defendant, the Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was “knowing” or in “reckless disregard” of the fact the individual was an alien. If the defendant did not know they were transporting or harboring an alien, and were not acting in reckless disregard of the fact the individual was an alien, the charges can be beat.
  • Government Error: It comes as no surprise that the Government and it’s agents are capable of making mistakes. A violation of search and seizure laws, mishandling of evidence, false identifications, or any other error can lead to a dismissal of charges.


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William R. Burgener, Esq.

William R. Burgener, Esq.

San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney