Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill that broadens the scope of who can be charged with human smuggling, while raising the stakes for offenses covered under the previous law.
The bill, SB 576, removes the requirement for an offender to be seeking monetary gain when transporting another person for the purpose of hiding from or fleeing an officer. It also adds ways that a person can violate the statute.
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“This all makes it easier to arrest and to prosecute human smugglers. This law also increases criminal penalties for human smuggling, especially when payment is involved in that process,” Abbott said at a Wednesday news conference.
The new law amends a previous statute by making it a third-degree felony to help or direct more than one person “to enter or remain on agricultural land without the effective consent of the owner.” It also bumps smuggling a person “for pecuniary benefit” up from a third-degree felony to second degree. This raises the maximum jail time for the offense from 10 years to 20.
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“Any operation that imposes stiffer fines or jail time for individuals is a deterrent, and we appreciate the assistance that we can get,” Border Patrol agent Jesse Moreno told BorderReport.com.
Moreno said he has seen 30 or more people living in quarters meant for four or five.
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The law comes at a time when Texas is facing a border crisis most recently highlighted by thousands of people from Haiti illegally crossing from Mexico into the city of Del Rio. The Department of Homeland Security said that as of Wednesday they had deported 1,719 people back to Haiti. Meanwhile, Border Patrol agents have told Fox News that those being removed are generally single men and women, while family units and women claiming to be pregnant (and their partners) are being released.
Fox News’ Griff Jenkins and William Melugin contributed to this report.