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What is “harboring” or harboring an undocumented person, and what exactly are the consequences?

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) sets forth laws forbidding people from concealing, shielding, or harboring unauthorized individuals who have come into the United States and remain in the United States.

What does it mean to harbor an undocumented person? 

Harboring can also refer to knowing that someone has entered the country without explicit permission or visa, and knowingly concealing, harboring or shielding them from detection in any building or transporting them. It can include giving directions on how to find false documentation or warning about a pending investigation on someone who is facilitating. And it can also include encouraging an undocumented person to come to or enter the US without proper form of documentation or before becoming a citizen. 

For example, there was the prominent case of the United States vs. Lopez, went through the court of appeals and said harboring  “was intended to encompass conduct tending substantially to facilitate an alien’s ‘remaining in the United States illegally,’ provided that the person charged has knowledge of the immigrant’s unlawful status.”

Mr. Lopez was knowingly housing undocumented immigrants for $15 a week in his county homes. He gave people the address to his home before they came to the US and helped them obtain false work authorizations and even transported them to work. He helped facilitate green card marriages to aid them to continue to stay in the US. Each of his six homes were searched and he was found to be housing a total of twenty-seven undocumented immigrants. He was charged with harboring. He argued that simply housing undocumented people was not considered harboring. He argued that harboring was only when you assist in smuggling someone over the border and that it must be clandestinely performed. The Second Circuit argued against this and that he had in fact provided resources to facilitate in harboring illegally. 

What penalties can you face for Harboring?

If someone has been illegally harboring an alien, they may be fined and subject up to five years of imprisonment. If they have been harboring aliens and are doing so commercially or for their private financial gain, they may be subject to fines and up to ten years of imprisonment. Sentences grow more severe and be increased by up to ten additional years, for example, if you transported groups of ten or more immigrants, if they were transported in a way that endangered their lives or they presented a life-threatening health risk to people in the United States. 

Contact our office today at 617 880-6155 to speak with our knowledgeable crimmigration lawyers in Boston.


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Heading up the firm, Vikas Dhar is widely recognized as a leader in the New England legal community. An accomplished business litigator and a “Top 40 Under 40” criminal defense attorney, he has also been honored as a New England Super Lawyer/Rising Star in the area of White-Collar Criminal Defense for each of the past six years by Boston Magazine.

I have the power and the skill to be able to save people from themselves. I can be your guide during the darkness. I can hold your hand and navigate you out of the darkness into the light.

— Vikas Dhar
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