FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 17, 2021
AUSTIN, TX - Governor Greg Abbott has signed, giving final approval to Senate Bill 576 by Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa. SB 576 strengthens smuggling laws in Texas by giving local law enforcement officers more tools to arrest human smugglers and will make it easier for prosecutors to convict them.
Under current law, Texas prosecutors are unable to effectively charge and convict human smugglers. They are required to prove that the smuggler was intending to obtain a pecuniary (or monetary) benefit. This poses an enormous challenge as smuggled individuals often do not want to testify against their smuggler out of fear of retaliation against themselves or their families, or simply because they are not kept in custody long enough to do so.
To ensure that local officials can adequately convict and punish human smugglers, SB 576 removes the intent to obtain pecuniary benefit from the conditions of a human smuggling offense. It establishes that a person commits a third-degree felony crime if they knowingly assist, guide, or direct two or more individuals to enter or remain on agricultural land without the owner's consent. Furthermore, SB 576 enhances the penalty to a second-degree felony in the case that: a prosecutor is able to prove intent to obtain a pecuniary benefit; a smuggler or smuggled individual knowingly possesses a firearm; or a smuggler knowingly flees from a peace officer or a U.S. Department of Homeland Security agent.
"There is no doubt that we have a critical situation at the state's southern border and I have heard firsthand the difficulties that human smuggling brings to local officials and landowners. SB 576 is designed to target human smugglers who are a threat to both smuggled individuals and people who live in the remote areas along the border. I am committed to ensuring that these criminals are put behind bars and that our border communities are protected."
The bill was sponsored in the Texas House of Representatives by J.M. Lozano and will take effect September 1, 2021.