By Terri Jo Neff |
Prosecutors in Arizona’s border counties have long complained of having no consequential option for charging people who engage in transportation of undocumented non-U.S. citizens (UNCs), but that could substantially change if Senate Bill 1379 is enacted.
It is currently only a Class 1 misdemeanor under Arizona Revised Statute 13-2929 if a person “unlawfully transports, moves, conceals, harbors or shields undocumented immigrants.” A Class 1 misdemeanor conviction provides for a jail (not prison) sentence of no more than six months, and in many courts it can take that long just to get a case to trial.
But SB1379 would reclassify human smuggling transportation activities involving one UNC as a Class 6 felony, making prison time an option. Felony convictions also trigger a loss of many civil rights, including the right to possess or use a firearm.
In addition, the bill would allow state and county prosecutors to charge those involved in the transportation of 2 or more UNCs with a Class 4 felony. This significantly changes the current group prosecution option under ARS 13-2929, which requires at least 10 UNCs to be in a vehicle in order to charge as a Class 6 felony.
SB1379 even redefines who can be charged under state law with engaging in human smuggling transportation. Currently a person must already be in violation of another “criminal offense” in order to be charged under ARS 13-2929. The bill rewords that prerequisite to a violation of a criminal “law or statute.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed SB1379 on Thursday. It is waiting to clear the Senate Rules Committee next.