Human trafficking is a crime punishable by severe prison terms. Even if it is about minors who are ‘brought’ by ‘coyotes’ from their countries of origin to reunify with their parents or relatives in USA. But it is an issue about which little is said, especially in these times when the southern border is experiencing one of its worst crises in decades.
At the end of March, the Border Patrol said they hope to have more than 16,000 Unaccompanied Minors (UAC) in their custody, a record for that month in at least 10 years. In February, about 9,300 were registered and, in January, the number of arrests reached 5,700.
For its part, White House fears that fiscal year 2021, which ends on September 30, will set a record not only for UAC, but for arrests of adults and family units, and also for immediate expulsions by the coronavirus pandemic (under Title 42) and deportations for reasons of inadmissibility (under Title 8 of the United States Code).
The question that arises in the midst of this crisis – which the White House does not recognize as such but refers to it as a ‘serious problem’ – is whether those who pay a ‘coyote’ or human trafficker to bring a child know that the United States Code (US CODE) defines it as a crime and, if a person is accused and found guilty, they are sentenced to a prison term of no more than 10 years the first time.
A difficult subject
“It’s a tough question, but you have to ask it,” says Juan José Gutiérrez, executive director of One Stop Immigration in Los Angeles, California. “We try to explain to people, tell them that in the future they may have consequences, but the crisis that motivates the urgency to remove a child from their country to save his life overcomes the worries,” he adds.
“If a person manages to reunite with his son and then a few years later he goes to the Consulate to finalize the residency process, during the interview they will ask him how he entered the country and how he entered the United States,” he explains.
Gutiérrez also said that “when they discover that the same ‘coyote’ that brought the parents brought the children, the adults can be accused of having collaborated with or paid the human trafficker to introduce him to the United States and in that moment they can cancel the process of the green card”.
“In other cases, instead of receiving the immigration benefit they were looking for, they could be sent to prison. I think that as much as a father is desperate, he should not trust a coyote with neither the life nor the fate of his son ”, he considers.
There are other options
The activist warns that “people don’t think they know that paying a coyote is a crime. I am convinced that, in their financial desperation and in order to give their children a better future than the terrible nightmare that they have lived through, they send them to the United States thinking that they are doing them good and they never imagine that they are breaking the law ”.
But poverty or lack of work are causes of asylum, warn immigration lawyers consulted by Univision Noticias.
“The asylum policy is very clear. It is only granted if there is persecution based on race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion, ”says José Guerrero, who practices in Miami, Florida. “You have to have a legal basis to apply for asylum,” he adds.
Regarding the payment that a person makes to a coyote to bring a child to the United States, Guerrero points out the “law says that you cannot incite to contribute to trafficking.” And that when a person pays to transport a minor, “that is a crime that, if the government wants, it can prosecute.” “Basically under federal statute, that person can be charged with conspiracy,” he adds.
Only if they bring charges
Paying a ‘coyote’ to transport a minor or anyone else “is not a crime until charges are filed,” says Alex Gálvez, an immigration attorney practicing in Los Angeles, California. “Paying a coyote may be considered a crime, but first the government must charge the coyote, the person who paid the ‘coyote, or both.”
If he does not do so, “the only consequence for the person who asks to bring a child will be in the future,” when he goes through the consular process to request an immigration benefit, “as Gutiérrez explained.
However, Gálvez says that “even if the government decides to press charges, the person can argue that he was protected by the United Nations (UN) Refugee Law” and that the purpose of paying a coyote “was due to the fact that he was saving the life of a child. That is the big difference. Although that does not save the coyote.
For attorney Jaime Barrón, who practices in Dallas, Texas, “the humanitarian emergency that we are seeing on the border and in the countries of the so-called Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) is more severe than the possible crime. It is necessary to measure between the balance and any action in violation of the law that may exist in each case ”, he pointed out.
What the law says
The Department of Justice (DOJ) indicates that human trafficking is criminalized in the 1907. TITLE 8, U.S.C. 1324(A) Offenses, title that defines several different crimes related to foreigners.
In 1996, Congress criminalized knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants.
Regarding sanctions, the Code says that the basic legal maximum sanction for violating 8 USC § 1324 (a) (1) (i) and (v) (I) (alien smuggling and conspiracy) is a fine under the title 18, imprisonment for not more than 10 years, or both.
If human trafficking involves serious or life-threatening bodily injury, or results in the death of anyone, the defendant can be punished with life imprisonment or the death penalty, it warns.