When you hear the term “alien smuggling,” you probably picture a professional human trafficker guiding illegal immigrants through the desert under the cover of night. While that certainly qualifies as alien smuggling, you may be surprised to hear that most alien smuggling cases don’t involve “coyotes” (as they’re popularly called).
In fact, many alien smuggling cases don’t even involve an immigrant actually crossing the border — you can get busted for just trying to help someone enter the United States illegally.
Alien smuggling charges can carry severe consequences for lawful immigrants, including inadmissibility and deportation. This is a serious challenge for individuals applying for immigration benefits like a visa or green card, and it’s resulting in more denied USCIS applications.
If you’re applying for a visa, green card, or naturalized citizenship with USCIS, it helps to understand what alien smuggling is, what your options are to appeal the charge, and how to apply for a waiver. However, it’s even more beneficial to consult with an immigration attorney.
Alien smuggling is a serious charge, and it can be difficult to fight the charge when an immigration official is pointing their finger at you. To ensure the best possible outcome and avoid being deported or classified as inadmissible, you should meet with an attorney as soon as USCIS notifies you that you’ve been charged with alien smuggling.
What Is Alien Smuggling?
INA 212(a)(6)(E) defines alien smuggling as knowingly encouraging, inducing, assisting, abetting, or aiding an alien to enter or try to enter the United States. The law doesn’t require there be any profit motive or financial transaction.
Current and prospective immigrants who are found guilty of alien smuggling are considered inadmissible to the United States. If you’re already in the country, that may serve as grounds for removal (deportation). If you have legal immigration status and are traveling outside the country, you won’t be able to return to the United States (i.e. you’ll be denied entry at the port of entry).
Finally, if you’re applying for a visa from outside the United States, your application will be rejected on grounds of inadmissibility.
Examples Of Alien Smuggling
Again, you don’t have to be a professional human trafficker to be accused of alien smuggling. Outside of those coyotes we talked about, here are some common examples of cases of alien smuggling:
Immigration officials are always on the lookout for individuals who use marriage as a way to obtain a green card, only to separate or divorce after entering the country. The Diversity Lottery is of particular interest. If you are not chosen in the annual lottery and end your marriage or engagement soon after being notified, the lawful permanent resident backing the application may be accused of alien smuggling under a sham marriage.
Lying About a Dependent’s Marital Status or Age
Dependents must be under 21 and single, so it’s not uncommon to see a parent lie about their adult child’s age and/or marital status in order to help them get into the United States. If immigration officials suspect a parent is lying on their application, they can order a bone density test to help determine the age of dependent applicants, or check civil registries in the country of origin for marriage records.
Lying About Paternity or Maternity
Extended family members and close friends sometimes list a niece, nephew, grandchild, or family friend as their child on a visa application in order to help them enter the country. If immigration officials suspect a dependent is not the applicant’s child, they can order a DNA test to determine maternity or paternity.
Providing Financial Support for Unlawful Entry
When an immigrant in the United States sends money to a foreign relative so that they can pay a coyote to smuggle them into the country, the immigrant is guilty of alien smuggling.
As these examples show, many cases of alien smuggling involve immigrants trying to help family members enter the United States. While the intentions are good, lying on an application or otherwise circumventing the legal immigration process is still illegal. Unfortunately, trying to help a loved one enjoy the benefits of living in the United States may result in that individual losing their own immigration benefits.
Defending Against Alien Smuggling Charges
There are a number of ways you can defend yourself against alien smuggling charges. As long as you’re truly innocent, completing the requested genetic test is a simple solution. Providing valid documents is also helpful.
Ignorance is also a possible defense. The alien smuggling law states that you must knowingly break the law, so if you didn’t actually know the information you provided was untrue then you might be off the hook.
For example, perhaps your child eloped without your knowledge, so you honestly didn’t think they were married when you listed them as a dependent on your USCIS application. Or perhaps you truly married for love, but unbeknownst to you, your partner was using you to get a green card and planned to divorce upon entering the country.
In either case, the immigrant accused of alien smuggling didn’t knowingly lie or break the law, so they may be innocent of the charges.
Applying For A Waiver Of Alien Smuggling
When you’re unable to prove your innocence or ignorance, the only way to fight being designated as inadmissible (and subsequently deported) is to seek a waiver of inadmissibility under INA 212(d)(11). In order to qualify for a waiver of admissibility, the alien you are accused of smuggling must be a spouse, parent, son, or daughter. Furthermore, you must convince the adjudicator to grant the waiver based on one or more of the following grounds:
Humanitarian purposes: perhaps the illegal alien is ill and unable to attain adequate healthcare in their home country, or they are in imminent danger of being killed if they remain in their home country.
Assuring family unity: if your removal (deportation) would harm a US citizen family member, perhaps a spouse or child, immigration officials may grant a waiver to avoid splitting up the family.
Benefiting the public interest: immigrants who possess good moral character and are active in their local community may be granted a waiver of inadmissibility if their removal would be detrimental to the community.
There are plenty of applications and cases that immigrants can handle on their own, but this isn’t one of them. If you have been accused of alien smuggling and your USCIS application has been denied, or if you have received notice that your legal status in the United States is in jeopardy, you should contact an immigration attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case.
Similarly, if you have broken the alien smuggling law and are planning to submit an application for immigration benefits, it’s best to address the issue before submitting your application. Speak with an immigration attorney first to determine the best course of action to proactively avoid having your application denied.