The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) reports that prosecution for immigration-related crimes was down in June 2016 by 17.7 percent over the previous month. There were 5537 new immigration prosecutions in the month of June.
When all the numbers are compared over the past year, they reveal only a 0.1 percent uptick in immigration crimes prosecutions, according to TRAC.
These figures beg context. The total number of immigration crimes prosecutions since 2011, however, have decreased by 13.9 percent.
The overwhelming majority of federal prosecution of immigration crimes originates from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through its two lead investigative agencies: Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
All of June 2016 prosecutions were referred to federal prosecutors by DHS—the overwhelming majority of which (4737) were filed in U.S. Magistrate courts. TRAC notes that these courts handle “less serious misdemeanor” cases, more commonly referred to in the federal system as “petty offenses.” Most of the cases (57.7%) involved the lead charge of “Entry of an Alien at Improper Time or Place, etc.”—a violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1325.
The Obama administration has drawn significant criticism for the high number of people it has prosecuted and deported for immigration crimes The number of people deported by the Obama administration reached a record high in 2013 with 438,421 deportation, according to the Pew Research Center.
ICE reports that the number of deportations for the Fiscal Year 2015 dropped to 235,413—the lowest number since 2008 under the Obama administration.
A serious examination of deportation figures reveal a sharp decline since 2013. This is reflected in recent reports from the United States Sentencing Commission that demonstrate that prosecution for immigration crimes in general has continued to decrease.
This has proven to be a big relief for the federal justice system. Just three years ago, immigration-related crimes made up 40% of federal prosecutions, almost double the amount of federal prosecutions for drug crimes!
The decrease in immigration crimes prosecutions, however, does not mean that the federal government is treating these offenses with less seriousness. Conviction for an immigration-related offense can have long term consequences for the non-citizen and citizen alike.
Let’s look at the different kinds of immigration crimes that are tried every day in federal courts, as well as the types of penalties that can result.
Understanding Immigration Crimes and How We Handle Them
There are many different crimes that can get United States citizens, green card holders, or non-citizens charged with immigration crimes, all concerning the legal process for immigrants entering the United States or becoming citizens (naturalization).
Below are a few of those crimes and their definitions:
- Unlawful Entry into the United States – Unlawful entry into the United States will give you the status of an “illegal alien,” “illegal immigrant,” or “undocumented citizen.”
- Reentry into the United States after Removal or Deportation – After you have been deported, you may have to wait up to 20 years to gain reentry (if you are allowed back in the country at all).
- Creating or Using Fraudulent Statements to Gain Visas, Entry, or Naturalization into the United States – You cannot fake your way into citizenship or entry. Obtaining naturalization through fraudulent means, whether you are using someone else’s birth certificate or lying on your forms, is considered a federal crime.
- Reproduction or Sale of Naturalization or Citizenship Papers – Allowing an illegal immigrant to use your identity to obtain citizenship will result in charges against both the immigrant and yourself if you are caught.
- Alien Smuggling – If you are caught helping someone gain unlawful entry into the United States, you will be charged with aiding that person.
- Harboring, Employing, and Inducing Illegal Aliens – You don’t have to drive a vehicle containing illegal aliens into the country or be involved with transportation. We’ve discussed in previous posts how employing illegal aliens is punishable with jail time and heavy fines.
These laws show that not all immigration crimes are confined to non-citizens. Federal prosecutors often go after business owners and other U.S. citizens who violate immigration laws even more zealously.
Penalties for Immigration Crimes
Since immigration charges deal with the United States Citizens and Immigration Services, they are charged as a federal crime. This means that getting charged with an immigration crime will put you in front of a federal judge and a federal prosecutor, where you will face a federal sentence.
These are serious crimes that come with severe consequences. Here are just a few examples of the penalties for immigration crimes:
- Smuggling an illegal immigrant into the country carries with it a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and heavy fines.
- Selling or using fraudulent documents to gain naturalization carries with it a sentence of up to 5 years in prison and heavy fines.
It should be remembered that if you are not a citizen of the United States, these crimes could put you up for deportation. In fact, any crime that is considered an aggravated felony or crime of moral turpitude can qualify an immigrant for deportation.
Additionally, earlier we mentioned that reentry after deportation is legally possible after a certain period of time. However, if you illegally reenter the United States after deportation, you will face federal charges and strict punishments that can even result in a permanent ban from reentering the United States.
An Immigration Crimes Lawyer Is Not an Option, But a Necessity
The bottom line is this: even though prosecution rates for immigration crimes are declining, they are not disappearing. Being charged means facing serious repercussions that can ruin your reputation, derail your business, and potentially upend your life and separate you from your family.
Don’t try to face your charges alone. Federal courts are strict, and immigration crimes tend to be complicated and confusing. Contact a federal immigration attorney today to safeguard your future.