If you’ve been here in the United States for a significant amount of time, it’s possible that you’ve overstayed the limit of your visa. While that is a problem, it becomes a much bigger issue — and an actual crime — if you leave the country and try to reenter it again illegally.

Generally speaking, being in this country without the proper documentation can get you detained and deported, but it is treated more like a civil offense. Reentering the country after you’ve been deported and banned, however, is a felony. Similarly, it’s considered a crime if you enter the United States after having been officially denied admission, excluded, removed, or if you departed on your own while an order of exclusion, removal or deportation is pending.

The penalty for someone guilty of illegal reentry is a fine, imprisonment for up to two years or both — unless you have a criminal record. Then, depending on what you have been convicted of in the past, you could face 10 or even 20 years in prison before another deportation.

A lot of times, illegal reentry is done without any criminal intent. Your actions may stem from a basic misunderstanding of your rights — especially if you voluntarily reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after overstaying your visa and agreeing to leave the country. You may not have realized that you were being barred from reentry for an entire decade. In other cases, people may not even be aware that they were officially deported until they return to the United States and are arrested.

You may be able to successfully challenge a charge of illegal reentry, especially if the initial order of deportation was somehow flawed or you were denied a chance to apply for asylum. An experienced attorney can provide more information and guidance.