Federal Alien Smuggling
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    Federal Alien Smuggling Defense Attorney in San Diego

    People charged with alien smuggling in the United States may face severe penalties in federal court.  Ultimately, a federal sentence can vary from diversion, to a misdemeanor, to a federal felony with minimum mandatory penalties.

    The recent crackdown on illegal immigration has federal and local law enforcement officials on high alert for people illegally smuggling aliens on U.S. soil.  Under federal law, it is crime to transport non-United States citizens into the country. U.S.C. Section 1324 also prohibits encouraging, aiding, harboring, and attempting to conceal an undocumented alien. 

    If you have been charged with alien smuggling, it is critical that you hire an experienced federal criminal defense attorney like David Silldorf to protect your rights.

    Alien Smuggling Laws – U.S.C. Section 1324

    The federal laws concerning alien smuggling are broad and the maximum exposure to federal prison can be surprisingly staggering.  There are essentially five different types of related alien smuggling activity under U.S.C. 1324: (1) smuggling or otherwise causing an alien to enter the U.S. from a place outside the U.S.; (2) illegally transporting an alien internally within the U.S.; (3) harboring or concealing an illegal alien present in the United States; and (5) aiding and abetting, and conspiring to alien smuggle.  The following are federal crimes under U.S. Code 1324, Section 8:

    • Smuggling: Crossing the border with or arranging a border crossing with an illegal alien
    • Transporting: Facilitating an illegal border crossing
    • Harboring: Concealing or harboring an illegal alien in a vehicle or building
    • Encouraging: Inducing or causing an illegal border crossing
    • Hiring: Hiring, recruiting, or referring an illegal alien for a job
    • Conspiracy to Commit any of the previous violations
    • Aiding and Abetting any of the previous violations

    There are various factors that can aggravate an alien smuggling venture, including the alien being smuggled (are they an aggravated felon? I.e., do they have serious or violent felony convictions?); the number of aliens involved; whether there was injury, risk of injury, or death to the aliens; whether dangerous weapons were involved; and the purpose for the smuggling—for example—sex trafficking, prostitution, or financial gain.

    The methods of transporting illegal aliens into or throughout the U.S. are often unsafe.  It is common for people to be placed in dangerous situations while being transported in trucks, cars, aircraft, and boats.  If an undocumented person suffers serious injury during alien smuggling, the parties held responsible could face up to a 20-year sentence. 

    A common example seen is aliens smuggled in the trunk of a vehicle without safety restraints or the ability to free themselves.  If alien smuggling results in death, the accused could face life in prison.  Unfortunately, people lose their lives attempting to cross the border through remote desert regions of the U.S./Mexico border during the hot summer months and run out of water and other essential supplies.  People have also drowned in maritime operations that go bad, attempting to flee capture by law enforcement.  

    Alien Smuggling in San Diego and Imperial County

    Alien Smuggling is one of the most common immigration-related offenses in the Southern District of California. Because of its close proximity to the border, San Diego and Imperial County are hotspots for undocumented illegal migration.  The individuals involved in alien smuggling are often also involved in drug trafficking, money smuggling, weapons trafficking, and the exploitation of migrant labor.  This has led various federal agencies to take an aggressive stance on alien smuggling.  

    The FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Customs, Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, Department of State, and the U.S. Marshal’s Service have all collaborated with California Border Patrol and local law enforcement agencies in an effort to break up smuggling rings.  

    These organizations are actively pursuing individuals involved in alien smuggling. The federal authorities are also investigating and prosecuting businesses that hire illegal aliens. Business owners that knew or should have known that they employed illegal aliens are subject to prosecution under federal immigration laws.

    Crimes Related to Alien Smuggling

    Illegally smuggling people into the United States is a profitable business.  The desperation that leads migrants to risk their lives to attempt to cross the border into the U.S. makes them susceptible to exploitation.  People who are smuggled across borders are often required to engage in illegal activities to pay off the debt owed to the smugglers and establish a new life. 

    Crimes that are often related to alien smuggling include:

    • Kidnapping/for ransom: aliens successfully crossed into the U.S. may be held against their will until their smuggling fees are paid
    • Immigration fraud: falsifying, altering, forging immigration documents
    • Human trafficking: trafficking people and exploiting them for financial or personal gain
    • Money laundering: hiding or otherwise obscuring the illegal source of income
    • Drug trafficking: illicit drug smuggling between ports of entry and border barriers
    • Weapons trafficking: illegal smuggling of weapons, munitions, or ammunition
    • Fraudulent marriage with the intent to be naturalized
    • Failure to pay taxes on illegally earned income
    • Trafficking people and exploiting them for financial or personal gain

    Defending Against an Alien Smuggling Charge

    The sentences given to people who violate federal immigration law can be incredibly harsh.  That is why it is so important to retain the services of a San Diego alien smuggling attorney who can effectively defend against these charges.

    A knowledgeable federal criminal defense attorney should have various tools they can employ to successfully defend an alien smuggling case. Common defenses include the defendant had a lack of knowledge or intent that they were transporting the alien illegally, or that the defendant had actual knowledge of the alien’s immigration status.  Official restraint (a defense commonly seen in illegal entry or re-entry cases under USC Section 1326) may be used for smuggling an aggravated felon or smuggling for prostitution.  Purely extraterritorial acts and the religious organization exception (exempting religious organizations from prosecution, under certain circumstances) are also available to defend against a 1324 prosecution. 

    An experienced defense lawyer can also present evidence to reduce the sentence and bypass mandatory minimums and further reduce a defendant’s sentencing guideline exposure.

    Federal judges, and most prosecutors, have a high level of knowledge and experience in trying alien smuggling cases. Your legal defense should have an equally high level of experience, professional resources, and capabilities to meet the demands of a high-stakes federal case. 

    It is critical to have an attorney present during all communications with the government or its agents concerning a federal criminal investigation. If you or someone you love has been charged with alien smuggling or a related offense, you should immediately contact the Law Offices of David Silldorf, APC.

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      David Silldorf, Federal Defense Attorney in San Diego

      Federal drug laws are complicated, and the consequences for alien smuggling crimes can be severe. If you are arrested for an alien smuggling crime in San Diego, David Silldorf is ready to provide you with an experienced defense.

      David Silldorf has been designated by the Federal U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California as an experienced criminal practitioner qualified to handle appointments arising under the Criminal Justice Act. 

      The firm’s proximity to the international border has a strong influence on David’s caseload. He regularly represents individuals charged with alien smuggling offenses, drug-related federal conspiracy cases, and other federal offenses involving firearms.

      Case Results

      noun two front seats 3657623

      United States v. an individual

      [No. 09cr3330-WQH]

      Smuggling two aliens concealed behind the front seat of the vehicle.

      ACQUITTED after jury found client NOT GUILTY

      noun group 597105

      United States v. an Individual


      Transporting 7 illegal immigrants.


      noun Car 2389506

      United States v. an individual


      Client was arrested at the Ocotillo Border Patrol Checkpoint with three illegal aliens concealed in his car.



      We’ll fight for you so you get the results you deserve.

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