Consequences of Illegal Entry to the US

Consequences of Illegal Entry to the US

Before planning a trip, all foreign travelers who wish to visit the United States should inform themselves what to expect at the US border and whether or not it is necessary to obtain a travel document for the country in order to avoid illegal entry to the US and its consequences.

The majority of foreign citizens are required to obtain a US tourist visa to enter the countries for short stays. US visa waiver nationalities, such as Schengen member states and citizens of Japan and Australia, are required to pre-register for an ESTA travel authorization. Citizens of China are required to obtain a B1/B2 tourist visa as well as to submit an EVUS form to receive travel authorization.

Those who attempt to enter the US without the correct valid travel documents are likely to face consequences, including penalties and even jail time. Attempting to enter the US at a place other than that designated by immigration officers, or attempting to secure a marriage to stay in the United States can also incur severe fines.

Learn more about the federal illegal immigration laws and regulations below.

Is It a Crime to Enter the US Illegally?

According to US immigration law, crossing the border illegally is a federal misdemeanor, is categorized as "improper entry", and is punishable by law. “Improper entry” does not only apply to those who attempt to cross unguarded areas of the US border. It can also include:

  • Those who enter or attempt to enter the United States at any point other than designated by U.S. immigration officers, for example, those who do not declare their entry at a border inspection point
  • Those who attempt to elude examination or inspection by U.S. immigration officers when entering the country, for example by crossing over inside the trunk of a car or hiding inside large pieces of luggage
  • Those who deliberately provide false or misleading information, or deliberately conceal information, to attempt to gain entry to the United States. This could include illegally obtaining a falsified US green card or visa document, or lying on a visa application.

Besides “improper entry” it is also a crime for foreign citizens to attempt to stay in the United States past the validity granted by the government. Any individual who knowingly establishes a commercial enterprise, or who knowingly enters into a marriage for the purpose of avoiding immigration laws, is also liable to face penalties.

What Is the Penalty for Illegally Entering the United States?

The punishment for illegally entering the US (improper entry) as a first-time immigration offender is either a fine from between $50 up to $250 or a prison sentence of up to 6 months. Repeat offenders are likely to be fined twice as much as the first attempt and may face a new prision sentence of up to 2 years.

There are also separate penalties for those who attempt to illegally re-enter the US after having being deported for certain types of crime:

  • Offenders deported for a conviction for 3 or more misdemeanors involving drugs, crimes against the person, or both, or a felony other than an aggravated felony - up to 10 years in prison or a fine
  • Offenders deported for a conviction of aggravated felony - up to 20 years in prison or a fine
  • Foreign citizens deported from the United States for security reasons - a fine and a prison sentence up to 10 years, which should not run concurrently with any other sentence
  • Nonviolent offenders deported from the US before the end of a prison sentence - a fine, jail time up to 10 years or both. The offender may be incarcerated for the remainder of their sentence without any reduction for parole or supervised release.

Those who commit marriage fraud or immigration-related entrepreneurship fraud in an attempt to stay in the United States illegally are likely to face either a fine of up to $250,000 or up to 5 years of jail time.

How to Avoid an Illegal Entry Misdemeanor in the US

In the United States, there is zero-tolerance for illegal entry whether the traveler committed the offense by accident or on purpose. Therefore, it is important for all foreign citizens to ensure they have the correct travel documentation to enter the United States, that the documents are valid upon entry, and that they arrive at a designated US border checkpoint.

In addition to obtaining a valid B1/B2 tourist visa, travelers from EVUS eligible countries are required to pre-register an EVUS application before they can travel to the United States. The Electonic Visa Update System determines the eligibility of visa holders to enter the country and is valid for 2 years from the date of approval.

An EVUS is not the same as an approved visa for the United States: citizens from selected countries are required to obtain both travel documents in order to travel to the US and avoid an illegal entry misdemeanor.

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