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Friday, May 9, 2008

Are illegal immigrants criminals?

Very often we here from certain anti-immigrant groups that illegal immigrants are criminals. While their motives for opposing illegal immigration may vary from person to person, one fact remains the same: they are trying to spread fear to garner support for their views.


Well, because when one thinks of the word "criminal" one imagines someone robbing a bank, a murderer, a rapist, etc. One doesn't imagine someone who is speeding, abusing drugs, being drunk in public, evading taxes, or even working in the country without legal documentation. Regardless of the use of the word "criminal", one this is for sure, they are all breaking a law or another.

So does that mean they are criminals?

Just because someone breaks a law, it does not necessarily make them criminals, just like speeding doesn't make a person a criminal. It all depends on the type of law you break, how you break it, how many times you break it, and if you are found guilty of breaking it. According to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), there are two components that decide whether an illegal immigrant has committed a civil violation or criminal one. A criminal charges may include alien smuggling, which is prosecuted in the federal courts. For civil violations it can include a lack of legal status, which may lead to removal through a separate administrative system in the Department of Justice.

Since what I have to say next would be almost the same as plagiarising, I will quote from the Immigration and Nationality Act so that you may better comprehend why it is incorrect to say that illegal immigrants in the US are criminals.

Being illegally present in the U.S. has always been a civil, not criminal, violation of the INA, and subsequent deportation and associated administrative processes are civil proceedings. For instance, a lawfully admitted non-immigrant alien may become deportable if his visitor’s visa expires or if his student status changes. Criminal violations of the INA, on the other hand, include felonies and misdemeanors and are prosecuted in federal district courts. These types of violations include the bringing in and harboring of certain undocumented aliens, the illegal entry of other criminal provisions include disobeying a removal order, offenses relating to registration of aliens, and engaging in a pattern or practice of hiring illegal aliens.

An alien may be present in the United States but not admitted. For example, if an alien entered the United States without being inspected by an immigration officer, the alien would be physically present in the United States, but would not have been
admitted under the law.

Having said that, the answer to the question of whether illegal immigrants are criminals is: yes, no, and maybe. Regardless of which one you WANT to choose, the fact remains that only an immigration judge can decide whether a person who is in the country illegally is a criminal or not. Remember, in America, you are innocent until proven guilty, and not the other way around.

Stop Demonizing Our Borders

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