Air and ocean carriers often unintentionally transport aliens into the United States who do not have a valid passport and/or an unexpired visa.  Carriers receive a fine from U.S. Customs and Border Protection of $3,000 for every such alien illegally transported.  Carriers get an automatic reduction of 50% of the fine by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with U.S. Customs.  Carriers must obtain and submit a newly revised MOU to U.S. Customs on April 23, 2010.

On February 22, 2010, U.S. Customs issued a General Notice that all air and ocean carriers which had signed an MOU with either the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service or U.S. Customs will no longer be effective. Only by submitting a new Fines Mitigation MOU countersigned by U.S. Customs Headquarters may fines be automatically reduced.  Carriers need to prepare now to comply with the many new changes in the MOU.

The new MOU has many changes, but the essential paragraph 3.10 still provides:

The Carrier shall maintain a reasonable level of security designed to prevent passengers from circumventing any Carrier document checks.  The Carrier shall also maintin an adequate level of security designed to prevent stowaways from boarding the Carrier’s aircraft or vessel.

Without the new MOU, fines will be issued against the carrier by U.S. Customs for violating the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. 1323.   Reduction of the fine greater than 50% may be obtained by the carrier when a violation occurs by establishing that further mitigating or extenuating circumstances exited at the time of the violation that warrant the relief sought.  To do so, the carrier should carefully follow the guidelines set forth at 8 CFR Part 280.

In Florida , the U.S. Coast Guard has recently issued a directive notifying all carriers that every vessel arriving at port from Haiti will be subject to a boarding and examination.  As a result, the number of discovered stoways has increased dramatically, and fines are being issued to carriers.