From a legal perspective, human trafficking involves exploiting men, women, or children for sexual acts or forced labor. In contrast, human smuggling is defined as helping someone gain entry to the United States illegally. Understanding the differences in these laws can be challenging without the guidance of an experienced lawyer.
Don Flanary is a federal criminal attorney in San Antonio, a city that is known as a human smuggling and trafficking hotbed due to its proximity to the Texas Mexico border. He knows how to untangle the statutory language and explain the difference between human smuggling and human trafficking — and he is here to do just that.
Is human trafficking the same as migrant smuggling?
Is smuggling trafficking? Legally speaking, human smuggling is not human trafficking. Although the two crimes are often confused, they are quite different in purpose and punishment. The two main distinctions between human trafficking and alien smuggling are intent to exploit, and the crossing of an international border.
What is human smuggling?
Human smuggling, also commonly referred to as alien smuggling, is the provision of a service to aid an individual in gaining illegal entry into a foreign country. In a human smuggling case, both the smuggler and the person being smuggled are committing a crime by bringing an unlawful citizen across international borders.
- Harboring activities can be thought of as classic smuggling activities, like driving and leading someone across the border physically, with a few additional activities including:
- Knowingly bringing, or attempting to bring, an alien across international borders.
- Knowingly transporting, or attempting to transport, an alien who has entered the country illegally.
- Knowingly concealing, harboring, shielding, or attempting to shield any alien from detection who has entered the country illegally.
- Knowingly encouraging an alien to break immigration laws to cross international borders.
- Aiding and abetting
- Aiding and abetting charges are generally reserved for those who were “just trying to help,” but did not physically transport or enact any alien smuggling activities. Should a Texas search warrant turn up any illegal aliens on your property, you can be charged with aiding and abetting alien smuggling.
- Conspiring to carry out harboring activities is also illegal. Planning to commit an alien smuggling offense, and carrying out a decisive act in the commission of those plans, is enough evidence to be indicted for conspiracy.
Penalties for human smuggling are severe and become more severe if you were acting for profit or the humans who were smuggled sustained any severe injuries. Current residents of the U.S. without citizenship who are convicted of human smuggling run the risk of facing extradition* or being branded fugitives from justice.
The crime of alien smuggling can, however, turn into human trafficking. If the person who was smuggled across an international border is saddled with a debt to be repaid by forced labor or sexual explotation, the smuggler would have then committed the crimes of both alien smuggling and human trafficking.
*Continue reading: Texas extradition laws
What is human trafficking?
18 U.S.C. § 2422 defines human trafficking as “knowingly persuading, inducing, enticing, or coercing any individual to travel in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or Possession of the United States, to engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense.”
Essentially, human trafficking involves the exploitation of individuals for the purpose of forced labor or sexual exploitation. Human trafficking can be thought of as a crime against a person, rather than a nation. Trafficking crimes technically do not require that a person is brought anywhere new to be exploited, although it is more common for a person to be moved to a new place when they are trafficked.
What are the types of human trafficking?
While the purpose of exploitation varies from situation to situation, all human trafficking has the intent to exploit those being trafficked in common.
- Forced labor is also known as involuntary servitude, and is the largest human trafficking sector in the world, according to the U.S. State Department.
- Sex trafficking is such a common form of human trafficking, that it almost seems synonymous with human trafficking. It involves forced participation in paid sex acts. Women and girls are most affected by sex trafficking and makeup 80% of the transnational total of people trafficked every year.
- Debt bondage occurs when a person is forced into labor for the purpose of paying off debt.
Human trafficking in its many forms can be thought of as a crime against a person, while alien smuggling in its essence is a crime against the state. While the two are distinct crimes, the lines can often blur and overlap as immigrant women are the most commonly trafficked population in the United States.
While there are gulfs between the motivations acting as the impetus for committing these crimes, and certainly the moral complications involved therein, they are both federal crimes that carry heavy consequences.
What’s the difference between human trafficking and human smuggling? It could be life in prison
The difference between human trafficking and human smuggling starts with intentions and ends with prison sentences. While a first-time alien smuggling charge can land you in prison for a year or two, human trafficking charges can put you away for life the first time around.
If you or a loved one has been accused of either of these grievous crimes and you expect to tell your side of the story, you need an expert trial lawyer to begin building your case now. Call Flanary Law Firm today at (210) 738-8383 or contact us online for a free consultation.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of human trafficking:
- Call 911 to report an ongoing emergency.
- Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or Text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733) to confidentially report suspected crimes and get help from a nongovernmental organization.
- Call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at 1-866-347-2423 to anonymously report suspected human trafficking crimes.
- Contact the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453, or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 to report and aid abused or exploited minors.