When you think of federal crimes, you may think of drug offenses, human trafficking, terrorism, and similar offenses. However, a lesser-known offense has almost single-handedly accounted for a 200 percent rise in federal convictions in the past 25 years – illegal reentry into the United States.
Many people think that people who are unlawfully present in the U.S. are simply deported back to their home countries. However, many of these immigrants are prosecuted in federal court and sentenced to a federal prison sentence. When someone is facing illegal reentry charges, too many people think that they should call an attorney who focuses on immigration matters. However, these proceedings do not take place in immigration court – defendants face proceedings in the federal criminal justice system, which has very different procedures and possible consequences. Illegal reentry is a serious federal crime and you need a highly experienced federal criminal defense attorney handling this type of case.
Federal Sentencing Statistics
In order to get a better picture of the issue, the following are some important statistics regarding federal sentencing and federal immigration convictions:
Number of offenders sentenced
- 1992 = 36,564
- 2012 = 75,867
Unlawful reentry convictions
- 1992 = 690
- 2012 = 19,463
Federally-sentenced offenders who were Latino
- 1992 = 23 percent of offenders
- 2012 = 48 percent of offenders
Federally-sentenced offenders who were not U.S. citizens
- 1992 = 22 percent of offenders
- 2012 = 46 percent of offenders
Federally sentenced offenders who were unauthorized immigrants
- 1992 = 12 percent of offenders
- 2012 = 40 percent of offenders
The above statistics give a clear picture of just how serious this problem is in the federal criminal courts. On average, a person convicted of illegal reentry was sentenced to two years in federal prison, which significantly increased the number of offenders who were behind bars. These numbers only address federal criminal courts and do not include immigration courts – which demonstrates the importance of having a legal defense by an experienced federal criminal attorney and not simply by an immigration attorney.
Defending Against Illegal Reentry Charges
The criminal offense of illegal reentry involves entering the United States unlawfully more than once, entering the United States after you have been denied admission, or entering the United States after you have been deported or removed.
Simple illegal reentry can carry a penalty of two years in federal prison. However, a sentence can be enhanced under certain circumstances. For example, if a person was deported or removed due to a criminal conviction, their sentence for illegal reentry can be up to ten years. If someone was deported due to an aggravated felony conviction, they face up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted of illegal reentry. An illegal reentry conviction does not only mean you will have to leave the United States again – it also means you can lose your freedom for an extended period of time.
The right federal criminal defense lawyer will know ways to defend against these charges and limit the consequences you face. For example, if a prior deportation was not valid or the immigration court made an error, reentry charges should not apply. Even if you are convicted, an attorney can fight to have your sentence significantly reduced based on mitigating factors. For example, if a criminal conviction was for a minor, nonviolent crime, you may not face the full sentence for someone deported due to a criminal conviction. Also, if you returned to the U.S. in order to care for family, this is a circumstance that may justify a lesser sentence.
With economic conditions around the world become tougher, more and more people are trying to enter the U.S. Simultaneously, the current political regime has made it significantly more difficult to get immigration approvals, so many people try to enter the country without proper permission. In too many cases, trying to find a better life or reunite with family members is ending up in serious federal criminal convictions and prison sentences. Anyone who is arrested for illegal reentry needs a highly qualified