Understand the potential penalties for immigration offenses

When a person from another country is in the United States without authorization, he or she may be subject to civil penalties. Federal law treats two crimes, illegal entry to the U.S. and illegal reentry after admission denial, as criminal offenses.

If you are facing immigration issues, learn more about how the U.S. distinguishes between these offenses and the possible penalties.

Civil immigration offenses

When authorities learn that a person does not have the authority to be in the U.S., consequences may include fines and deportation. The individual cannot receive jail time or otherwise face criminal penalties. These laws also apply to someone who had a valid visa but did not leave the country as scheduled. Fines range from $50 to $250 depending on circumstances, with doubled fines for subsequent offenses.

Even when a person has legally come to the U.S. and has a green card, deportation can result if he or she commits a so-called crime of moral turpitude (injury or theft to another person) or aggravated felony. Although the definition of moral turpitude is vague, it generally applies only to crimes that would result in at least a one-year prison sentence.

Illegal entry and reentry

If law enforcement arrests a person when he or she is entering the United States without the proper paperwork, criminal charges may result. This crime, known as illegal entry, occurs if the individual:

  • Makes false statements to officials during examination while entering the U.S.
  • Avoids inspection or examination at customs when entering the U.S.
  • Enters the U.S. between points of entry and does not pass through customs

Illegal entry, a misdemeanor, can result in a six-month prison sentence along with fines. Penalties are much steeper for illegal reentry, which is a felony that can carry up to two years in prison, up to 10 years if the person has a criminal record and up to 20 years if that record includes serious felonies such as assault or murder.