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Bimini, a tiny tourist island in the Bahamas is also one of the most popular boarding points for Florida-bound human smugglers. Every year, immigrants from Haiti, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic travel to the island and work to make enough money to make the trip. Known for its party atmosphere, Bimini’s service industry is closely entangled with the human smuggling industry. Migrants work as servers, mechanics, housekeepers, and other trades that support the island’s tourism-based economy while saving the thousands they need to make the trip to Florida. On the other side of the route, individuals cooperate with the smuggling operations by keeping watch and alerting boat captains of the potential threat of law enforcement. These individuals are often everyday people who are recruited to help out in exchange for payment. If caught, they may suddenly find themselves facing federal charges and possible deportation if they are not U.S. citizens. Joffe Law’s Fort Myers criminal defense attorneys are available to represent people who are under investigation or facing human smuggling charges.

Human smuggling vs. human trafficking

Human smuggling is sometimes used interchangeably with human trafficking. The two types of activity are often related; however, they have distinct differences. Human smuggling, often referred to as migrant smuggling, is the act of transporting someone illegally across national borders. Florida law also prohibits the illegal housing, concealment, employment, and transportation of migrants once they have entered the U.S. Human trafficking is an activity that seeks to exploit someone by making an illegal profit, most often through forced labor or commercial sex acts. Human smugglers do not always seek to traffick the people they bring into the U.S. In fact, migrants typically pay the smugglers for their transportation services. Unfortunately, migrants do sometimes encounter smugglers who also seek to defraud and traffick the people they transport. In other cases, smugglers may be paid participants in trafficking rings that kidnap or unlawfully detain people before transporting them across international borders.

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How people become involved in human smuggling

Human smuggling operations are often supported by people who transport house and feed migrants who have not obtained authorization to come to the U.S. Those who participate in these operations sometimes get involved to help out, or they may be trying to make ends meet. Smugglers who transport migrants to the U.S. often have experience in navigation-related industries like operating boats or driving commercial trucks. Some smugglers previously transported drugs or other contraband and were recruited by human smuggling rings. In the smugglers’ countries of origin, there are often business owners who are aware of smuggling rings and offer employment to migrants who work temporarily to save money before traveling to the U.S. Restaurants, hotels, and homeowners provide the means for migrants to obtain housing and food while staying in the transit country. Some governments also collude with human smuggling organizations and agree to look the other way when smuggling networks operate in their countries.

Recently, law enforcement agencies have begun using social media networks to recruit teens to transport migrants. Teens are lured into the operations when smugglers ask them to help families in need by giving them a ride to their destinations after crossing the border. Smugglers who disclose the illegality of the activity tell teens they are less likely to be criminally prosecuted because they are minors.

Migrants who have more money to spend travel to the Caribbean and pay smugglers to transport them into the U.S. via luxury yachts. These smugglers can receive tens of thousands of dollars per person. Smugglers who operate higher-end services also usually arrange more comfortable means of transport for the migrants when they arrive in the U.S.

Human smuggling as a federal crime

Human smuggling is referred to in federal statutes as “alien” smuggling. An alien is another word for someone who is not a citizen of the U.S. Because human smuggling directly violates U.S. immigration law, people who directly work for or knowingly assist with a smuggling operation can face federal charges. Examples of activities for which a person would need a Fort Myers federal criminal defense lawyer include:

  • alien smuggling
  • unauthorized transport of aliens
  • harboring aliens
  • illegal hiring
  • marriage fraud
  • facilitating illegal reentry

The penalties for crimes related to alien smuggling depend on the individual facts of each case. A defendant may be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in federal prison if convicted of transporting or attempting to transport an unauthorized migrant into the U.S. Harboring or transporting an unauthorized person for profit within the U.S. carries a maximum prison sentence of up to 10 years. If the defendant transported or harbored a migrant without intending to receive payment, he or she may be sentenced to a maximum of five years in federal prison. If an alien is injured during the smuggling process, the accused smuggler may be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. If smuggling results in an alien’s death, the smuggler may receive a life prison sentence.

Federal prosecutors charge smugglers and those who assist them for each instance of smuggling. Therefore, a career smuggler may be subjected to 10s or 100s of smuggling charges, which multiplies the potential time he or she may spend in prison.

Harboring an alien

Harboring an alien can take the form of one family member helping another family member who has come to the U.S. without authorization. In other cases, there are elaborate networks of people who provide transportation and residential accommodations to newly-landed migrants. Family members are more likely to harbor non-citizens free of charge or for nominal amounts to help cover their expenses. People who are recruited to work with smuggling rings are more likely to benefit financially from supporting the illegal operation.

Who investigates human smuggling?

Cases of human smuggling are most likely to be detected by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents who are employed by the Department of Homeland Security. In some instances, the FBI may investigate members of smuggling rings, especially if they are also believed to be linked to human trafficking.

Reach a Fort Myers human smuggling defense lawyer

People sometimes find themselves under investigation for human smuggling after doing what they considered to be a good deed. Others face charges for helping their own family. Our human smuggling attorneys are here to provide legal counsel and representation to those who are accused of this crime in Fort Myers and surrounding areas. Contact our law office to receive a free case evaluation. We will respect your privacy and keep your personal details confidential.

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Serious federal cases only.

AVAILABLE 24x7
Serious federal cases only.

AVAILABLE 24x7
Serious federal cases only.

AVAILABLE 24x7
Serious federal cases only.

AVAILABLE 24x7
Serious federal cases only.

AVAILABLE 24x7
Serious federal cases only.

AVAILABLE 24x7
Serious federal cases only.

AVAILABLE 24x7
Serious federal cases only.

AVAILABLE 24x7
Serious federal cases only.

AVAILABLE 24x7
Serious federal cases only.

AVAILABLE 24x7
Serious federal cases only.

AVAILABLE 24x7
Serious federal cases only.

AVAILABLE 24x7
Serious federal cases only.

AVAILABLE 24x7
Serious federal cases only.

AVAILABLE 24x7
Serious federal cases only.

AVAILABLE 24x7
Serious federal cases only.

AVAILABLE 24x7
Serious federal cases only.

AVAILABLE 24x7
Serious federal cases only.

AVAILABLE 24x7
Serious federal cases only.

AVAILABLE 24x7
Serious federal cases only.