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Harboring Aliens

Title 8 U.S. Code § 1324 - Bringing in and Harboring Aliens

Each year, millions of unauthorized immigrants attempt to enter the United States illegally—and many succeed. For many people, America represents a land of opportunity, and families will cross state borders hoping to build a better life.

But many people may not know that assisting or harboring aliens in entering the country illegally is a federal crime subject to criminal prosecution. Title 8 U.S. Code 1324 details numerous situations where bringing in and harboring aliens (i.e., non-U.S. nationals) violates federal law.

Bringing in and Harboring Aliens -  Title 8 U.S. Code § 1324

To fight the problem of illegal immigration, Congress has established this comprehensive anti-human smuggling law. It targets people who help people cross American borders and enter our harbors illegally and those who help these aliens remain in the United States.

However, to be convicted of violating federal human smuggling laws, federal prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you knew the person was not a U.S. citizen or that you recklessly disregarded the truth about their citizenship.

Depending on the circumstances and the specific offense, if you're convicted under this law, you could face between one and 20 years in federal prison—and if someone dies as a result of your actions, you could even face life imprisonment. Let's review this federal statute in more detail below.

Overview of 8 U.S.C. 1324

Title 8 U.S.C. 1324 describes several crimes involving assisting, transporting, or harboring aliens entering the country illegally. Under this law, any of the following actions constitute a federal immigration crime:

  • Smuggling aliens into the U.S. under subsection 1324(a)(1)(A)(i) makes it a crime to bring aliens into the United States by any entry place other than a designated port of entry or another legal entry point. This is true even if the alien(s) in question have been legally authorized to enter.
  • Transporting unauthorized aliens under subsection 1324(a)(1)(A)(ii) makes it a crime to transport an unauthorized alien inside the U.S. by any means of transportation while knowing the alien has entered the country illegally.
  • Harboring unauthorized aliens under subsection 1324(a)(1)(A)(iii) makes it a crime to harbor, shield, or conceal an unauthorized alien knowingly. Harboring includes providing shelter or other assistance (financial, food, etc.).
  • Encouraging illegal entry under subsection 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv) makes it unlawful to encourage aliens to enter the United States illegally. This includes inducing or persuading aliens to cross the border without proper authorization.
  • Conspiring with others to bring in aliens illegally/aiding/abetting under subsection 1324(a)(1)(A)(v) makes it a federal crime to conspire with others to bring unauthorized aliens into the United States or assist them in doing so, whether for financial gain or not.
  • Bringing unauthorized aliens into the U.S under subsection 1324(a)(2). Unlike smuggling aliens, which only deals with bypassing legitimate ports of entry (see above), this section makes it a federal crime to knowingly bring any unauthorized alien into the country at any point or by any means.
  • Knowingly hiring unauthorized aliens under subsection 1324(a)(3)(A). Newly added to this law in 1996, it is now a crime for any employer to hire ten or more unauthorized aliens within 12 months knowingly.

What Are the Related Statutes?

8 U.S. Code Part VIII general penalty provisions list several statutes that are related to Title 8 U.S. Code 1324, including the following:

  • 8 U.S.C. 1321 - prevention of unauthorized landing of aliens;
  • 8 U.S.C. 1322 - bringing in aliens for healthcare grounds;
  • 8 U.S.C. 1323 - unlawful bringing of aliens into the United States;
  • 8 U.S.C. 1325 - improper entry by the alien;
  • 8 U.S.C. 1326 - reentry of removed aliens;
  • 8 U.S.C. 1327 - aiding or assisting certain aliens in entering;
  • 8 U.S.C. 1328 - importation of alien for immoral purpose;
  • 8 U.S.C. 1329 - jurisdiction of district courts;
  • 8 U.S.C. 1330 - a collection of penalties and expenses;
  • 18 U.S.C. 911 - false claim of United States citizenship;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1427 - sale of citizenship papers.

What Are the Penalties for 8 U.S.C. 1324?

The various crimes described under 8 U.S.C. 1324 vary in severity and are punishable by various penalties, depending on the circumstances and which section of the law was violated—generally speaking.

However, most violations are felony offenses and carry criminal fines and jail time. Some examples of penalties and enhancements:

  • For primary offenses of bringing in an unauthorized alien: up to one year in prison;
  • For bringing in an unauthorized alien for purposes of financial gain: up to 10 years in prison;
  • For smuggling an alien in illegally: up to 10 years in prison;
  • For transporting an alien illegally: up to 5 years in prison;
  • For hiring ten or more unauthorized aliens: up to 5 years in prison;
  • If the unauthorized alien you helped causes serious bodily injury or endangers someone's life: up to 20 years in prison;
  • If violating these laws results in someone's death: up to life in prison.

Most notably, these penalties are applied per person, not per incident. So, for example, if you are found guilty of smuggling three unauthorized aliens into the U.S., you may face up to 30 years in prison (10 years for each alien smuggled).

Additionally, your sentence may be enhanced by an additional ten years if any of the following are true:

  • You were bringing in aliens as part of an ongoing commercial organization or enterprise (i.e., as a business for commercial gain);
  • The aliens were transported in groups of 10 or more;
  • The aliens were transported in an unsafe manner, one that placed their lives in danger; or
  • The aliens posed a life-threatening risk to anyone in the country.

What Are the Defenses for 8 U.S.C. 1324?

If you are charged with violating Title 8 U.S.C. 1324, you must act quickly and contact a federal criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Depending on the facts of your case, there may be viable defenses available to you that may result in acquittal, having the charges dismissed, or having penalties reduced. The defenses are discussed below.

Federal Criminal Defense Attorney

Perhaps we can argue that you were unaware the aliens were here illegally. However, to be guilty under this law, you must knowingly have illegally transported, assisted, harbored, or hired aliens.

In other words, there was a lack of knowledge. It might be an impactful defense if you did not know the immigrant's legal status. Perhaps there was a language barrier, or the alien lied to you. Maybe you had a reasonable belief that the person was a legal citizen of the United States.

Perhaps we can argue that you did not financially benefit from your actions. You may avoid specific sentencing enhancements if you show you did not act for financial gain.

If guilt is not in doubt, then perhaps we can negotiate with the federal prosecutor for a favorable plea bargain to avoid prison time. You can contact our law firm for a case evaluation via phone or through the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California.

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