Illegal Reentry into the U.S.

Immigration and unlawful entry into the U.S. remain hot political topics in America. There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., with those of working age making up more than 5 percent of the country's labor force, according to a 2012 study. They pay more than $11 billion dollars in various state and local taxes on an annual basis.

The federal government has been deporting millions of immigrants, some 2 million people between 2009 and 2014. With so many proceedings, the number of illegal reentry cases has increased as well.

What Is Illegal Reentry?

The law that covers unlawful reentry is Title 8 U.S. Code §1326. The law states that any person who “has been denied admission, excluded, deported, or removed or has departed the United States while an order of exclusion, deportation, or removal is outstanding” is not permitted to enter, try to enter, or be found in the U.S. This makes it a federal crime to be in the U.S. after a removal action.

Differences Between “Return” and “Formal Removal”

Although the two are similar in many aspects, as return and formal removal both are both means that the government uses to send the immigrant out of the country, there are some critical differences between the two processes.

Formal removal is the process used by the United States government to send undocumented immigrants back to their country of origin. This process generally requires lengthy legal proceedings and pays for the immigrant's return trip. But it also results in a ban on legally reentering the United States for 5 to 20 years. The immigrant generally has a chance to form a defense against the removal.

On the other hand, return means that an immigrant is apprehended, often when crossing the border, and is prevented from entering the country. Many of these people forgo the formal court process and appearance in return for milder penalties; they can generally come back legally at a later time. This process can take as little as a few hours to a few days.

Penalties for Illegal Reentry

Often, the penalty for illegally reentering the country without permission will be reinstating the previous removal order while carrying it out immediately. Other penalties can be imposed, depending on the circumstances. A fine and up to two years in prison can be levied for illegal reentry after being ordered removed. If the removal order involved three or more misdemeanors or a felony offense, the fine will be larger, and up to 10 years in prison is possible. Reentry following a removal after being convicted for an aggravated felony means the immigrant faces a stiff fine, as many as 20 years in prison, and a permanent ban on reentry into the U.S.

There are situations in which a previous order cannot be reinstated. These include:

  • when the immigrant is eligible to be lawfully admitted for permanent residence as described in Section 245A of the Immigration and Nationality Act,
  • expresses fear of return to their home country and thus asks for asylum, or
  • has applied for status adjustment based on a number of refugee acts.

An experienced immigration attorney will know all of the bases for defending the reinstatement and removal order.

When to Seek Help from an Immigration Attorney

An immigrant who is detained for an unlawful reentry into the United States may want to be represented by an experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney. An immigration attorney can help mount defenses against the threatened removal and help make complicated laws easier to understand.

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