Is it a crime to be an illegal immigrant?

Published 6:21 pm Sunday, June 24, 2018

There should be full support for legal immigration into America. Those who toil through the often-lengthy process of arriving here legally should be commended.  

Illegal immigration is, well, illegal. However, the issue is complicated, constantly discussed, and intentionally made confusing by some advocate groups.

Unfortunately, one of the main sub-issues is purely political. Both parties are concerned about present and future voters within the legal and illegal immigrant community.    

I am conflicted on the issue myself. President Trump did the right thing by signing an executive order reuniting families with children. Children are not to blame for this problem. The responsible parties who compound the problem are the parents who illegally enter the United States, organizations and people who advocate breaking the law, so called “sanctuary” cities and states that refuse to abide by federal law and businesses that encourage and welcome illegal immigration.  But, do illegal immigrants commit a crime by being in the United States or do they face only civil consequences? It depends on the circumstance. 

The most common crime associated with illegal immigration is improper entry. Under federal law, it is misdemeanor for an alien (non-citizen) to:

1. Enter or attempt to enter the United States at any time or place other than designated by immigration officers,

2. Elude examination or inspection by immigration officers or

3. Attempt to enter or obtain entry to the United States by willfully concealing, falsifying or misrepresenting material facts.

If convicted, the punishment is up to six months of incarceration and up to $250 in civil penalties for each illegal entry. 

Some people assume that all illegal immigrants who are in the United States committed improper entry. While many illegal immigrants did and still do cross the border, there are also foreign nationals who legally enter the country on a valid work or travel visa but fail to leave before their visa expires or fail to renew their visa.  But, unlawful presence in the country is not a crime. It is a violation of federal law to remain in the country without legal authorization, but this violation is punishable by civil penalties, not criminal. However, these civil penalties can be severe. 

They include possible deportation or removal. Here, the person may be detained and removed from the country. Unlawful presence can also have negative consequences for a resident who is seeking to gain re-entry into the United States, or permanent residency.