With the dramatic rise in aggressive immigration enforcement efforts under the Trump Administration, there is understandable concern among advocates about how to assist potentially removable non-citizens without running afoul of the federal harboring law, Immigration and Nationality Act §274(a). Although the law is broadly written, there are nonetheless actions that advocates can lawfully take to assist these vulnerable and frightened members of our community.
To establish a violation of the harboring law, the government would need to prove that: (1) the immigrant entered or remained in the U.S. in violation of the law, (2) you concealed, harbored, transported, or sheltered the immigrant in the U.S., (3) you knew or recklessly disregarded the fact that the immigrant was not authorized to be present in the U.S., and (4) you took some action that tended to substantially facilitate the immigrant’s remaining in the U.S. in violation of the law.
Merely providing shelter to at-risk immigrants is not enough to run afoul of the harboring law. It depends on whether or not the government knows that the immigrant is there.
If the government knows that the immigrant is in your building and is seeking refuge there, and you are not hiding them from detection, that is not against the law. So, for instance, a public, high-profile case of an immigrant seeking refuge in your church would not be unlawful harboring.
On the other hand, if by providing shelter you are hiding the immigrant to help them avoid detection by the government, that would be a violation of the law.
If you help an at-risk immigrant move from one location to another, and if that helps the immigrant stay in the U.S. without permission and/or it helps them to avoid detection by the government, that would be a violation of the law.
If you tell a vulnerable immigrant not to cooperate with the government, like not to show up for a check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, that can be considered harboring. Merely advising the person about the consequences of noncompliance is not harboring.
For all types of sanctuary assistance, it is critically important that you not seek any commercial advantage or financial gain from helping the vulnerable immigrant.
Call our Immigration Law Unit Helpline at 844-955-3425, Monday- Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. for assistance with cases other than deportation defense, such as:
The information in this document has been prepared by The Legal Aid Society for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. You should not act upon any information without retaining professional legal counsel.
Last Updated: 18 September 2019
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