AUSTIN-- Today, the Texas House of Representatives passed House Bill 793, a measure to close a legal loophole, dubbed the “smuggling on foot loophole,” that failed to address people who traffic undocumented persons across the border by foot. Representative Tony Dale (Cedar Park) is a joint author of this important legislation.
Currently, state law imposes a criminal penalty on a person who intentionally uses a vehicle to either conceal a person from law enforcement or to flee from law enforcement officials who are attempting to arrest the smuggler. While the current law helps law enforcement stop traffickers who are using vehicles to smuggle undocumented persons across the state, it does nothing to address smugglers who traffic people by foot through private land.
House Bill 793 creates an offense for a person who assists, guides, or directs three or more individuals to enter or remain on agricultural land without the effective consent of the property owner. An offense under this section is upgraded to a third-degree felony if the smuggler, an accomplice, or any of the smuggled persons knowingly possess a firearm.
“This legislation provides law enforcement greater authority to handle the human trafficking crisis on our border,” said the author, Representative J.M. Lozano (Kingsville). “Additionally, this bill will protect the rights of property owners who deal with the real issue of individuals using their land for illegal smuggling operations.”
Incidents of human trafficking of undocumented persons have become more apparent in recent years. Last year, the Brooks County Sherriff Department rescued 659 undocumented persons who were abandoned by smugglers on private property. Additionally, ranchers and law enforcement discovered 129 dead bodies — a figure that doubled from the previous year and was six times higher than in 2010.
Representative Dale said, "The number one public safety threat to Texas is drug cartels and their involvement in human smuggling is substantial. The penalties in House Bill 793 provide for severe punishment for those who perpetrate these crimes."
Dale was elected to the House in November 2012. He is a small business owner and veteran of the U.S. Army who previously served on the Cedar Park City Council. He represents western Williamson County, including the communities of Cedar Park, Leander and Brushy Creek, as well as parts of north Austin.