In 2014, there were approximately 11.3 million people in the U.S. who didn’t have the legal right to live in the country. According to the Pew Research Center, the 11.3 million people make up 5.1 percent of the U.S. labor force. Should these people be called illegal immigrants, undocumented immigrants or something else? It really depends on the individual’s circumstances.
An illegal immigrant refers to a person who has violated some immigration policy or law enforced by the U.S. A person who enters into the country illegally has committed a crime. Thus, the term illegal immigrant does apply. The question is not whether the person is human, as many immigration advocates want to focus on, but if a crime was committed. A person commits a criminal act under U.S. immigration laws if she:
- Enters the country without a visa or valid immigration documents
- Enters or attempt to enter the country at any time or place other than the areas designated by U.S. immigration
- Enters or attempts to enter the country by concealing, misrepresenting, or falsifying a material fact
- Re-enters the country after being deported and without valid visa or immigration documents
- Gain entry into the country using fraudulent or fake documents
- Impersonates a U.S. citizen
- Intentionally commits fraud on an immigration application
- Marries a U.S. citizen in a sham marriage for permanent resident status
This crime is punishable by six months of incarceration and a fine of $250. This punishment for each illegal entry a person attempts or succeeds in committing. Like other crimes in the United States, the federal government has the burden of proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt. In immigration, that means the government has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the immigrant did enter or attempt to enter the country illegally.
What about Undocumented Immigrants?
What about those who arrived in the U.S. legally, but remained in the country without a green card? If the non-citizens were here legally, but overstayed their welcome, they are considered undocumented immigrants. An undocumented immigrant is an individual who entered the country legally, but fails to leave before his visa expires. This was the case for many of the 9/11 hijackers who overstayed their student visas.
Is overstaying a visa a crime? No.
To remain in the country without legal authorized immigration status is a violation of immigration laws. A violation is punishable by civil penalties, not criminal ones. However, civil penalties for undocumented immigration include deportation. Although undocumented immigrants do not have to pay fines or serve jail time, illegal immigrants and undocumented immigrants can both be deported from the United States.
Authored by Taelonnda Sewell, LegalMatch Legal Writer