The Underground Railroad was illegal in the 19th century. And those who did participate in hiding slaves were at risk of prosecution under the law.
But each and every one of those people knew what they were doing. And they put their own lives at risk helping others.
While today slavery is not a legal institution, there are still people hiding from the government. And there are people willing to help them.
But some people in Texas may not even realize they are “harboring people from the government.”
These people are not intentionally breaking any laws. But a law recently reinstated in Texas might put Texas landlords at risk of prosecution under the law.
What is this law? Let’s look and find out.
1. Landlords Might Unwittingly Be “Harboring” Undocumented Immigrants But Are They?
There are over 11 million unauthorized persons in the United States. And many of them have merely overstayed their visas.
As a landlord, you may not even realize that you have a tenant who has overstayed their visa or are here illegally.
But a recent change in the status of a law made it possible for you to be prosecuted for “harboring” such persons. (Whether any enforcement agency might pursue this is hypothetical at best.)
In June of 2015, Governor Abbot signed into law House Bill 11. The law gives sweeping powers to the Texas law enforcement agencies to investigate, prosecute, and punish people harboring Undocumented immigrants.
The law allows for a punishment of up to 10 years in prison if found guilty of harboring Undocumented Immigrants.
According to NBC News, Two landlords in San Antonio appealed to the Federal Court regarding the law.
They based their appeal on the premise that landlords of Texas property could be prosecuted for merely sheltering undocumented immigrants on their property.
Last year, a Federal Judge placed a stay on the law while the lawsuit went forward.
2. What Was the Ruling on House Bill 11?
The suit itself argued that House Bill 11 circumvented federal authority on immigration policy.
It was argued the law was too broad. That a landlord merely renting a home to an undocumented immigrant could be prosecuted and found guilty.
Lawyers representing the State of Texas argued that the law doesn’t forbid sheltering in the case of renting to an undocumented immigrant. But it only criminalized intentionally concealing them.
In essence, they argued, you must knowingly harbor undocumented people on your property for the express purpose of concealment from the government.
The government would then need to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that you intentionally harbored undocumented people.
The law was about smuggling and not immigration. And therefore, the law did not step on federal toes.
The appeals panel sided with Texas. They agreed that the landlords who brought the suit were not in any way at risk of prosecution under the law.
And the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals put forth a narrow definition of the word “harboring” used in the law.
The court designed the addendum to protect landlords and humanitarian aid workers from prosecution if they merely provide shelter or conduct business.
Conclusion: You Have The Right
If you find yourself facing prosecution as a landlord or humanitarian aid worker, you have the right to a lawyer and a fair trial.
Do not let any person tell you otherwise. Find a lawyer dedicated representing you. And know your rights.
This post first appeared on The Dallas Lawyer, please read the originial post: here