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Human trafficking or human smuggling: What's the difference?

Man charged with smuggling people into U.S., different from trafficking

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SAN ANTONIO – When authorities discovered 8 bodies and 31 injured people in an 18-wheeler trailer in the parking lot of a southwest side Walmart early Sunday morning, San Antonio Police Department chief William McManus said it appeared to be a "human trafficking crime." 

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A criminal complaint filed in a San Antonio federal court on Monday, however, says 60-year-old James Matthew Bradley, Jr. is facing smuggling charges, not trafficking charges.

The two carry significant legal distinctions, and are not interchangeable according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

READ: Survivor says Zetas cartel linked to deadly smuggling case

The ICE website highlights the differences between the two:

Human trafficking centers on exploitation and is generally defined as:

Recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.


Human smuggling centers on transportation and is generally defined as:

Importation of people into the United States involving deliberate evasion of immigration laws. This offense includes bringing illegal aliens into the country, as well as the unlawful transportation and harboring of aliens already in the United States