Harboring Illegal Aliens Defense Lawyer

When we hear about the crime of “bringing in and harboring illegal aliens”, what most often comes to mind is people smuggling immigrants across the border illegally. However, many people in North Carolina and across the United States  have been caught up in situations leading to charges for harboring illegal aliens. All it really takes to potentially face a criminal investigation is for you to help a non-citizen, or “alien”, enter or remain in the United States unlawfully.

However, for that investigation to advance to charges and a conviction, the government does have to prove you knew the person was an illegal alien. This sets a high bar for burden of proof on the government, but to hold them accountable to that bar you will need an experience criminal defense attorney. Lawyers Raymond Tarlton and Brad Polk have extensive experience working in these complex immigration crime cases. If you are facing such charges or charges for related crimes, do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

mural of undocumented immigrants, who's friends may be punished for harboring illegal aliens

How Can I be Guilty of Harboring Illegal Aliens?

The crime, formally known as “Bringing in and harboring certain aliens” under the federal statute 8 U.S. Code § 1324, criminalizes many types of activity related to supporting non-citizens, including the following:

Harboring Aliens

The subsection of the statute 1324(a)(1)(A)(iii) states that it is a violation to:

knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien has come to, entered, or remains in the United States in violation of law, conceals, harbors, or shields from detection, or attempts to conceal, harbor, or shield from detection, such alien in any place, including any building or any means of transportation.

In other words, it is a crime to knowingly help a non-citizen residing in the U.S illegally by allowing them to stay in a property or means of transportation in an effort to evade the law.

The statute does not specify whether you have to own the property, so you can be guilty of this crime if you help a non-citizen reside in any location to conceal them from the law.

Smuggling into the United States

There are two sections of the statute that address unlawfully transporting a non-citizen. The first, under subsection 1324(a)(1)(A)(i), addresses transport across the United States border, and states that it is a violation to:

knowing that a person is an alien, brings to or attempts to bring to the United States in any manner whatsoever such person at a place other than a designated port of entry or place other than as designated by the Commissioner, regardless of whether such alien has received prior official authorization to come to, enter, or reside in the United States and regardless of any future official action which may be taken with respect to such alien.

This essentially means that it is illegal to know a person is a non-citizen (whether illegal or not) and bringing them to the USA through any point of entry that is not authorized by the Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization. This crime often entails illegally smuggling or transporting immigrants through an unauthorized channel.

Transportation within the United States

The other section on unlawful transportation, under subsection 1324(a)(1)(A)(ii), addresses transporting non-citizens within the United States. It states that is is a violation to:

knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien has come to, entered, or remains in the United States in violation of law, transports, or moves or attempts to transport or move such alien within the United States by means of transportation or otherwise, in furtherance of such violation of law.

In simple terms, it is illegal to knowingly transport a person who is residing in the U.S illegally to help them evade the law.

Employment of Illegal Aliens

Harboring illegal aliens also applies to companies and anybody in a position to employ others. While employing somebody without the knowledge that they are residing in the U.S illegally is not a crime, doing so knowingly is.

Subsection 1324(a)(3) of this statute which addresses employment specifies that knowingly hiring at least 10 people who are illegal aliens during any 12-month period is a punishable violation.

Encouraging, Aiding and Conspiracy

Like many other federal crimes, if you are found to have conspired to commit the crime or had attempted the crime, you can still be found guilty of it as if you successfully committed the act.

Subsection 1324(a)(1)(A)(v) makes it an offense to engage in a conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens, or otherwise aid somebody in committing this crime.

In addition to conspiracy, it is a crime to encourage or induce somebody to enter or reside in the U.S illegally, under subsection 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv).

Penalties for Harboring Illegal Aliens

  • for commercial gain, private financial advantage. – not more than 10 years. fine or both
  • Normally (for harboring, encouraging, conspiracy, concealing, conspiracy)  up to 5 years, fine or both.
  • If its in relation to the alien causing a person serious bodily injury or places any other person in danger of their life. -> up to 20 years AND fine
  • Alien has killed somebody – punished by death or imprisoned for term up to life, fined, or both.

The punishment imposed for harboring illegal aliens depends on a variety of circumstances, including if the alien is evading the law for other crimes, and if the person harboring them is doing so for their own gain. Penalties can include a fine, term of imprisonment, or both, as follows:

  • Fine and/or up to 5 years imprisonment: For harboring, transportation within the U.S, encouraging or aiding in committing such violations, or employing illegal aliens, so long as there are no other aggravating factors.
  • Fine and/or up to 10 years imprisonment: For smuggling into the U.S, conspiracy to commit such act, or any other harboring violation done for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain.
  • Fine and/or up to 20 years imprisonment: If the defendant caused another person serious bodily injury or placed another person’s life in jeopardy while harboring illegal aliens. 
  • Fine and/or up to life imprisonment or death penalty: If the defendant’s actions to harbor illegal aliens result in another person’s death.

In addition to the above penalties, the sentence may be increased by up to 10 years if all of the following are true:

  • It was part of an ongoing criminal organization’s activity;
  • Aliens were transported in groups of 10 or more; and
  • The aliens were transported in a manner that endangered their lives, or the aliens presented a life-threatening health risk to people in the U.S.

Finally, if a person used a vehicle or method of transportation in relation to the crime, their vehicle may be seized seized by the government. 

Defending Against Harboring Illegal Aliens Charges

The government has  become increasingly strict and less sympathetic towards those who are accused of immigrating here illegally and anybody helping them, so the need for a skilled attorney at your side is crucial.

Even if you believe you have strong evidence that you did not act knowingly, you should take an investigation seriously and hire an attorney. The worst thing you can do in any of these investigations is speak directly to law enforcement or any federal agency without a lawyer.

At Tarlton | Polk we tailor our defense strategy to account for every detail of the case. We have the experience of both working with prosecutors to get charges dismissed pretrial, or fighting in trial to reduce or drop charges against our clients.

If you are facing an investigation or have been charged with harboring illegal aliens or any other  crime related to immigration, give our dedicated team a call or leave us a consultation request.

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