The Underground Railroad was illegal in the 19th century. Those who participated were hiding enslaved people in violation of the law and were at risk of prosecution for harboring slaves.
While slavery is not a legal institution today, there are still people hiding from government persecution because of their legal status, even though they have committed no crime. And there are people willing to help them. Texas recently created a new law that aims to imprison people who shelter people who are hiding from the government because of their legal status.
What is this law? Let’s find out.
1. Smuggling of Persons, a Law Created by House Bill 11
In June of 2015, Governor Abbot signed into law House Bill 11. The law gives sweeping powers to the Texas law enforcement agencies to investigate, prosecute, and punish people harboring undocumented immigrants. The law allows for a punishment of up to 10 years in prison if found guilty of harboring undocumented immigrants.
There are over 11 million unauthorized or undocumented persons in the United States. And many of them have merely overstayed their visas.
Landlords Might Unwittingly Be “Harboring” Undocumented Immigrants
Some landlords were concerned that the new law made it possible for them to be prosecuted for “harboring” undocumented persons simply because they were leasees. As a landlord, you may not even realize that you have a tenant who has overstayed their visa or are here illegally.
According to NBC News, two landlords in San Antonio appealed to the federal court regarding the law. They based their appeal on the premise that landlords of Texas property could be prosecuted for merely sheltering undocumented immigrants on their property.
Last year, a federal judge placed a stay on the law while the lawsuit went forward.
2. What Was the Ruling on House Bill 11?
The suit itself argued that House Bill 11 circumvented federal authority on immigration policy. It was argued that the law was too broad. The landlords argued that they could be prosecuted for merely renting a home to an undocumented immigrant.
Lawyers representing the State of Texas argued that the law doesn’t forbid sheltering in the case of renting to an undocumented immigrant. In essence, they argued, you must knowingly harbor undocumented people on your property for the express purpose of concealment from the government.
The government argued that it would need to prove that you intentionally harbored undocumented people. The law was about smuggling and not immigration. And therefore, the law did not step on federal toes.
The appeals panel sided with Texas. They agreed that the landlords who brought the suit were not in any way at risk of prosecution under the law. And the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals put forth a narrow definition of the word “harboring” used in the law.
The court designed the addendum to protect landlords and humanitarian aid workers from prosecution if they merely provide shelter or conduct business.
3. Are You Worried About Prosecution for Harboring an Illegal Immigrant?
If you find yourself facing prosecution as a landlord or humanitarian aid worker, you have the right to a lawyer and a fair trial.
Do not let any person tell you otherwise. Find a lawyer dedicated representing you. And know your rights.
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