A man from the Houston-area town of Spring has been arrested for human smuggling for allegedly driving illegal immigrants from the Texas-Mexico border toward Austin—a job he says he took after seeing it offered on Houston Craigslist.
The man, 42, may not have known what he was getting into, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) troopers who arrested him. He reportedly drove from Houston to Eagle Pass, on the border, to pick up the immigrants and then was arrested.
As Houston’s KHOU-TV reported, Texas DPS Lt. Christopher Olivarez said human traffickers have already used social media, such as Instagram and TikTok, to recruit drivers, but this was the first time troopers found that Craigslist was being used as a recruitment means.
“They’re trying to reach a much larger audience,” Olivarez said of human smugglers using Craigslist. He said the ad stated, “All you need is a vehicle,” and “Payout same day and cash on delivery!!”
Recruited drivers stand to make from $3,000 to $5,000 for each illegal immigrant they transport from the Texas-Mexico border to a city in Texas.
Often such a city is Houston. According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Houston is the biggest hub for human trafficking in Texas and one of the biggest in the country.
Olivarez said there is a growing number of out-of-town drivers who have been arrested for smuggling in the Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector. He said he strongly believes “that all these drivers, even young adults, are not aware of the consequences and the dangers in getting involved with smuggling organizations.”
In the case of the Spring man, the consequences begin with him facing multiple felony human smuggling charges for 3 adults, whom authorities said they found in his vehicle. He’s also charged with smuggling a person under the age of 18, whom troopers said they found in his car.
Human smuggling differs from human trafficking
Keep in mind that there is a legal difference in Texas between human smuggling and human trafficking.
- Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery, with victims being exploited for prostitution and other forced labor and with no movement required for that to be a crime. When it involves coerced prostitution, the crime is often known as sex trafficking.
- Human smuggling comes from a consensual agreement between a smuggler, who intends to be paid, and a client who wishes to be smuggled, or transported, illegally across an international border by means of a motor vehicle, aircraft, watercraft or other means of conveyance.
Keep in mind that Texas has the longest border with Mexico of any state in the nation—1,254 miles of the 1,933 total miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Human smuggling takes different forms
The Texas Penal Code on smuggling of persons—which was revised and beefed up in the fall of 2021 with Senate Bill 576—distinguishes between crimes of human smuggling, depending on 3 things:
- When an offender uses a vehicle to transport a person into the country illegally or hide the person from government authorities
- When an offender assists, guides or directs 2 or more people across private land without the owner’s consent
- When an offender encourages or forces a person to stay in the country illegally and hides them from authorities
In addition, the crime can become what is known as “continuous smuggling of persons” if the offender commits the offense 2 or more times during a period of 10 or more days.
Persons charged with human smuggling can include not only the person who performs the illegal transportation but also the person who pays for it.
However, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, human smuggling can evolve into the crime of human trafficking if the transported person is later coerced into forced labor or servitude. In that event, the smuggled person becomes a victim of human trafficking.
Punishments for human smuggling in Texas
In Texas, human smuggling is a 3rd-degree felony when the smuggled person is unharmed. Though not as serious as a 1st-degree felony, punishments for convictions of a 3rd-degree felony of human smuggling can include a prison sentence of 2 to 10 years and a fine of as much as $10,000.
The crime becomes a steeper 2nd-degree felony if:
- The smuggled person is placed in circumstances in which they could be killed or suffer great bodily harm;
- The smuggled person is a child; or
- The smuggler is carrying a firearm.
Conviction for a 2nd-degree felony of human smuggling can lead to 2 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Human smuggling becomes an even more severe 1st-degree felony if the smuggled person is killed or suffers sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault or great bodily harm. Texas punishments for a 1st-degree felony can include a sentence of 5 to 99 years (life) in prison and a fine of as much as $10,000.
Federal laws, of course, can also apply to the smuggling of humans across international borders and into the United States.
Whether charges for such a crime are federal charges or state charges depends on which government entity is served by the arresting officers. In the case of the Spring man, he was arrested by Texas law officers and thus was charged with a Texas crime.
As for federal human smuggling convictions, they can lead to a sentence of up to 10 years in prison—or more if the smuggled person is harmed or if the defendant has previous convictions.
Get a skilled human smuggling or human trafficking defense lawyer
If someone in your family faces a charge of human smuggling or human trafficking, you must get an experienced, knowledgeable and skilled human smuggling or human trafficking defense lawyer or attorney to defend their legal rights.