Understanding Immigration Crimes
The federal government is granted extensive control, in fact nearly unrestricted control, to determine the laws and criminal offenses applicable to immigration and entry into the United States. This massive amount of power invested in the United States Congress has led to a robust set of immigration laws that create both criminal and civil offenses for actions such as:
- Illegally entering the United States as a foreign national; or
- Unlawfully trying to reenter the United States after being previously removed for violation of a visa restriction, early attempt to enter the United States illegally, or committing a felony offense as an immigrant to the United States.
These offenses, found in the United States federal laws are responsible for the majority of immigration charges and convictions.
Immigration Laws Applicable to U.S. Citizens
We commonly think of the broad immigration laws in the United States as applied to illegal immigrants and aliens. Yet, United States citizens can also commit and be convicted of immigration crimes. Some of the actions that may lead to charges against a United States citizen include:
- Creating false or fraudulent documents that are used or intended to be used for illegal immigration to the United States;
- Knowingly employing illegal immigrants in your grocery store, marketing agency, or as construction workers on a job site; or
- Assisting an illegal immigrant with passing border security or dodging border agents for illegal entry into the United States at an airport or physical border with Mexico or Canada.
What Laws Apply to Immigration Crimes?
The federal government has full authority to regulate and restrict the movement of people into the United States. For this reason, the laws criminalizing actions of illegal immigration and migration are found exclusively in the federal statutes passed by Congress. More specifically, criminal charges for illegal immigration, overstaying a U.S. visa or abusing work and study privileges under a U.S. visa all fall to the federal government.
The majority of federal immigration crimes are prosecuted under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952. Prior to the INA, federal immigration statutes were found in various acts and statutes of federal law. The INA consolidated these statutes.
What Are the Different Immigration Crimes?
This law has been modified since its passing, but the majority of criminal offenses date to the original law. The INA includes a set of statutes that tilted the General Penalty Provisions. It is in these statutes that immigration crimes are defined.
Some of the most common immigration offenses are:
- Improper entry: The most common and frequently prosecuted immigration crime is an improper entry into the United States. As of early 2018, improper entry and removal actions accounted for ½ of all federal offenses in the United States.
- Unauthorized landing of aliens: There is an affirmative obligation on the owners and operators of any vessel or means of transportation to ensure that illegal aliens do not enter the United States on their vessels, vehicles, or aircraft. Failure to perform reasonable checks and due diligence on individuals arriving on these vessels is an offense.
- Unlawful reentry of removed alien: Charges for unlawful reentry or attempted reentry are filed against those illegal aliens or immigrants who have been previously charged with unlawful entry and deported from the United States. This is a federal felony offense.
- Unlawful employment of aliens: It is illegal to recruit or hire an illegal alien (immigrant) for employment in the United States when such an employer knew or should have known that the individual employed was an illegal alien.
- Penalties for document fraud: In relation to unlawful entry or immigration to the United States, it is a criminal offense to assist with the forgery, counterfeiting, alteration, or production of false or fraudulent documentation. This criminal offense could apply to individuals entering the United States unlawfully or others who assist them in this manner.
Charged with an Immigration Crime? Your First Step
Your response after accusations of an immigration crime will vary depending on the exact offense and possible repercussions of a conviction.
For example, individuals charged with unlawful entry into the United States are facing deportation and removal, if convicted. However, individuals charged with unlawful employment of an illegal alien aren’t going to lose the right to residency or entry into the United States, but are more likely facing a federal jail sentence.
While your strategy and eventual plan for overcoming different immigration charges can differ significantly, the first step is the same in every instance. When you learn of possible or likely immigration charges against you, whether formal charges for a federal investigation, contact an immigration crimes lawyer.