Thursday, June 11, 2009

Schumer Promises New Authority to Feds in Smuggling Cases

*Picture from Senator Schumer's Bio

Please read the release below carefully
Schumer Promises Napolitano He Will Propose Giving Feds New Authority To Seise 'Stash' Houses Used By Human Smugglers
Current 'Civil Forfeiture' Laws Allow Government To Confiscate Property Used In Drug Smuggling, Money Laundering and Child Porn Cases, But Not Human TraffickingIn Meeting
With DHS Secretary, Senator Commits To Pursuing Fix For Loophole As Part Of Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill Planned For Later This Year
GAO Report Recommended This Step Four Years Ago In Order To Disrupt Human Smuggling Networks
WASHINGTON, DC—At the urging of the Obama administration, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) announced Wednesday that he would push, as part of the comprehensive immigration reform bill he plans to propose in the coming months, to give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) new authority to seize property linked to human trafficking crimes.

Schumer, the Chairman of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee, made the commitment at a meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who requested that Congress deal with this issue. Under current law, federal authorities are prevented from taking a home used to stash illegal immigrants unless the owner is first found guilty of a crime. Schumer’s proposal would allow the house to be seized based instead upon a showing that it was being used to facilitate a crime. This is the same standard that applies in drug smuggling, money laundering and child pornography cases. Schumer called this update to the law “critical” to the nation’s border security efforts.

“Right now, a loophole in the law is making it harder to shut down safe houses being used to smuggle illegal immigrants. It makes no sense that the government has this authority in drug smuggling cases, but not with human smuggling. This policy needs to be fixed right away, and we will be sure to include it in our comprehensive reform bill. It will put a serious dent in the operations of the Mexican cartels that deal in human trafficking.”

Gaining the expanded authority, known as “civil forfeiture,” has been a priority for federal law enforcement officials since the Bush administration. While authorities have the ability to seize vessels and vehicles through a civil proceeding, they cannot seize homes in this same manner. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office, a division of DHS, has long complained that this distinction has frustrated their efforts to crack down on human traffickers who use “stash houses” as way stations along their smuggling routes. A 2005 report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report concurred, noting that “a concern for investigators is lack of adequate statutory civil forfeiture authority for seizing real property, such as ‘stash’ houses, used to facilitate the smuggling of aliens.” Despite the report’s recommendation that Congress update the law to expand civil forfeiture authority, it has ever been taken.

But on Wednesday, Schumer assured Napolitano he would begin drafting legislative language to expand the agency’s powers right away and add it to the comprehensive immigration reform bill he is drafting. He predicted the measure would gain bipartisan support.

I'm not sure what to make of this. I'm not sure if Schumer understands the difference between human smuggling and human trafficking. It is clear the author who wrote this AP article doesn't, which is where I originally found this release and became frustrated with the lack of distiction.
It's not to say that both cannot happen in the same case: victims can be smuggled and trafficked, but he hardly makes the distinction or the connection in his release. If the distinction cannot be made in the law, then we're in a lot of trouble. This would easily confuse someone who was unfamiliar with the difference between smuggling (a crime against the state) and trafficking (a crime against the individual). Not to mention the fact it makes me nervous that we are giving broad powers to agencies that have not been completely trained on human trafficking and run the risk of re-traumatizing victims when agents can't recognize the difference. I guess I am judging a bit early in the process of what this legislation would actually mean, but this "promise" does not start on a good note with me.


  1. Carol Fenton10:42 AM

    I agree that the article does sound confusing, however I just read in the news yesterday that about 2 safe houses in Phoenix where people were being held after being smuggled from Mexico. They were held after transit and not released - see how it started as smuggling and became trafficking?
    This doesn't excuse the article for being confusing - and I do believe the Mr. Schumer and Janet Napolitano do know the difference betweet the two.

  2. Carol, I completely agree that someone can be smuggled and trafficked. However, these crimes can also occur separately and my concern is that this will not be clear in the legislation. I'm also concerned about whether the officers carrying out these seizures will know the difference as well to avoid a range of unintended consequences. There are also a lot of sensitive legal issues surrounding legislation like this, especially what is considered a "stash house."

    I'm sure Senator Schumer and Secretary Napolitano know the difference, but I feel the above-mentioned concerns are real and I know this will be part of the larger Inmmigration Reform Act so we don't want see details overlooked because it is a small part of the bill. Again, we will know more in the near future once the legislation has been put together.

    Thanks for commenting.