Human Smuggling Crimes in Florida

Before 2009, Florida law did not make it a crime to transport a person into or within the state of Florida by helping that person illegally enter or remain. In 2009, the Florida Legislature enacted Section 787.07, F.S., which provided criminal penalties for human smuggling in Florida. The statute was expanded in 2012 and 2023.

Under Florida Statute Section 787.07, the crime of human smuggling requires proof beyond all reasonable doubt that the defendant:

  1. transported into the state of Florida;
  2. another individual;
  3. who the defendant knew or should have known;
  4. had illegally entered the United States from another country.

Human smuggling is typically charged as a third degree felony punishable by up to five (5) years in prison and a $5,000 fine. A separate crime can be charged for each individual the defendant transports into Florida in violation of Section 787.07, F.S.

Under the newest version of the statute, the crime can be charged as a second degree felony if any of the following aggravating factors are proven:

  1. a person transports a minor child into the state of Florida in violation of the human smuggling statute;
  2. a person commits five or more separate offenses under the human smuggling statute during a single episode; or
  3. a person with a prior conviction for human smuggling commits a subsequent violation of this crime.

The statute also creates an “inference” that might be read to the jury which provides:  “Proof that a person presents identification or gave false information to a law enforcement officer who is investigating human smuggling, gives rise to an inference that such person was aware that the transported individual has entered the United States in violation of the law and had not been inspected by the Federal Government since his or her unlawful entry.”

A person arrested for human smuggling might be held for a court to determine pretrial release under chapter 903, F.S., instead of being able to bond out of jail immediately.

In 2023, the Florida Legislature also amended Section 895.02, F.S., to add the crime of human smuggling to the list of crimes that allow for prosecution under Florida’s RICO Act.

Attorney for Human Trafficking Crimes in Tampa, FL

If you were charged with the crime of human trafficking or smuggling, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Sammis Law Firm. During the consultation, we can discuss the elements of the offense, defenses, and ways to avoid the typical punishments imposed after a conviction.

Our attorneys represent public employers, contractors, and subcontractors accused of human trafficking by hiring undocumented employees when those employers are accused of not retaining employment verification records, failing to provide verification records to certain specified agencies, and failing to provide an affidavit to the DEO under certain conditions.

New provisions of the statute are subject to attack because they are invalid for two reasons. First, the new statutory provisions attempt to preempt federal law. Second, the new statutory provisions violate the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution. For either of these reasons, the statute might be found to be invalid on its face or as applied to a particular case.

Our main office is located in downtown Tampa, FL. We have additional offices in New Port Richey and Clearwater, FL.

Call 813-250-0500.

Types of Human Smuggling and Trafficking in Florida

The state of Florida is often listed third for human trafficking, behind only Texas and California. In 2022, the Tampa Bay area was listed as having the largest share of Florida’s illicit human labor trade.

The most common examples of human smuggling and trafficking crimes prosecuted in the greater Tampa Bay area include the following:

  • trafficking men, women, or children for forced criminal activities;
  • trafficking for forced labor or services;
  • trafficking another person for sexual exploitation; or
  • trafficking for the removal of organs.

Florida also takes advantage of undocumented workers by turning a blind eye to the problems with undocumented workers doing less desirable jobs in the United States, especially in the agriculture and construction industries. Many expect law enforcement to step up enforcement actions against employers under Section 448.09, F.S., related to the employment of unauthorized aliens.

Under the newly revised 448.09, F.S., effective July 1, 2024, if Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) finds or if the FDLE, the Attorney General, a state attorney in the circuit in which the new employee works, or the statewide prosecutor notifies the DEO that an employer has knowingly employed an unauthorized alien without verifying employment eligibility, the DEO must enter an order under ch. 120, F.S., making such a determination and requiring the repayment of any economic development incentives under Section 288.061(6), F.S.

For the first violation, the DEO must place the employer on a 1-year probation and require quarterly reporting to demonstrate compliance. After that, any subsequent violation that occurs within 24 months of a previous violation is grounds for the suspension or revocation all licenses issued by a licensing agency subject to ch. 120, F.S.

The DEO must also take additional actions for subsequent violations involving:

  1. One to 10 unauthorized aliens require suspension of all applicable licenses held by a private employer for up to 30 days by the respective agencies that issued them;
  2. Eleven to 50 unauthorized aliens require suspension of all applicable licenses held by a private employer for up to 60 days by the respective agencies that issued them;
  3. More than 50 unauthorized aliens require revocation of all applicable licenses held by a private employer by the respective agencies that issued them.

Violations might also be charged as a third degree felony for an unauthorized alien who knowingly uses a false identification document or who fraudulently uses the identification of another person to obtain employment.

The Florida legislature also made it a third degree felony for an unauthorized alien to knowingly use a false identification document, or who fraudulently uses an identification document of another person, to obtain employment. See Florida Statute Section 448.09(5).

Federal Law Prohibiting Human Smuggling

Whether a person is legally authorized to enter or remain in the United States is governed under federal immigration law. Federal law also prohibits human smuggling and imposes criminal penalties for illegally transporting a person into this country.

The government estimates that there are more than three (3) million illegal entries into the United States each year not including encounters at border-crossings with U.S. Border Patrol. Most federal prosecutions target full-time professionals accused of facilitating the smuggling of immigrants across the border. The government estimates that human smuggling operations generate more than $7 billion annually.

Under Federal law, 8 U.S.C. s. 1324 makes it a federal crime for a person to do any of the following:

  • Encourages or induces an alien to come to, enter, or reside in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such coming to, entry, or residence is or will be in violation of law;
  • Knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien has come to, entered, or remains in the United States in violation of law, transports or moves or attempts to transport or move such alien within the United States, by means of transportation or otherwise, in furtherance of such violation of law;
  • Knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien has come to, entered, or remains in the United States in violation of law, conceals, harbors, or shields from detection, or attempts to conceal, harbor, or shield from detection, such alien in any place, including any building or any means of transportation; or
  • Knowing that a person is an alien, brings to or attempts to bring to the United States in any manner whatsoever such person at a place other than a designated port of entry or place other than as designated by the Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization, regardless of whether such alien has received prior official authorization to come to, enter, or reside in the United States and regardless of any future official action which may be taken with respect to such alien.

Additional Resources

Human Trafficking Task Force in Tampa Bay – the Department of Justice allocated extra resources to create a regional Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force in 2020. The task force includes local, state, and federal law enforcement, providing resources and support to the victims of trafficking and smuggling.

This article was last updated on Monday, December 4, 2023.