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Criminalization of human smuggling, aiding illegal immigrants sought

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(The Center Square) – With border exposure and natural ports, Michigan Republicans want to change state law to make human smuggling illegal and criminalize harboring and transporting people who are or have entered the country illegally.

There are no state-level criminal penalties for human smuggling.

State Reps. Cam Cavitt, R-Cheboygan, and Gina Johnsen, R-Lake Odessa, recently introduced legislation that would criminalize bringing unauthorized people into Michigan. Harboring and transporting people living in or who have entered the country illegally would also become a state crime.

“In Michigan, human smuggling poses significant dangers as our proximity to international borders and Great Lakes ports heightens the risk of victims being abandoned in remote, hazardous areas and exposed to extreme weather conditions,” Johnsen said. “Smuggled individuals frequently endure severe abuse, including physical violence, sexual assault, and forced labor. This is a real issue and it’s hurting real people. Offenders must be brought to justice.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement defines human smuggling as transportation-based, while human trafficking is exploitation-based. There are state penalties for trafficking.

“Criminalizing human smuggling at the state level will guarantee local law enforcement are authorized and equipped to punish the predators illegally transporting people into our state,” Cavitt said. “These new laws will ensure that even if federal leaders continue embracing more and more radical far-left policies, Michigan will be steadfast in punishing anyone who chooses to exploit the vulnerable for personal profit.”

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data, the number of migrants apprehended while crossing the northern border more than doubled in 2023, from 3,578 arrested in 2022 to 12,200 in 2023.

While about 70% of illegal Canadian border crossings occur in the 295-mile Swanton Sector, which includes New York, New Hampshire and Vermont, Michigan still sees a significant amount of illegal immigration.

“Some smugglers even take to social media to promote their services,” Johnsen said. “But their customers have no recourse when they are harmed, abandoned in the smuggling process, or worse, abused, kidnapped, or forced into labor by predators posing as smugglers who never had any intention of helping them gain access to the United States.”

According to a report by The Center Square, the lowered security at the northern border can lead to multiple suspected terrorists breaching into the United States each year. In 2023, a record 147,666 single adults were encountered at the border, with 10,592 being in Michigan.

Michigan contains more than 700 miles of the northern border, making Alaska and Texas the only states with a larger share of border mileage.

“Our northeast Michigan community is right on the border with Canada,” Cavitt said. “When we’re talking about dangerous criminals paying to cross the Great Lakes into Michigan, they often are crossing right into our backyards. This crisis is putting our friends and neighbors at risk.”

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