Illegal immigration refers to a violation of the immigration laws and policies that are enforced in the United States. It generally refers to a person who has entered the U.S. illegally, though it can include other types of violations as well. Some common violations related to illegal immigration in the U.S. can include:

  • Entering the country illegally
  • Overstaying one’s visa privileges
  • Improper or illegal re-entry into the U.S. after deportation or removal
  • Fraudulent intent in an immigration application
  • Sham marriages for green card purposes
  • Violations related to citizenship and naturalization applications
  • Hiring illegal immigrants

Most of these are willful violations, but even accidental violations can lead to negative consequences. Thus, it is important for a person to be aware of such things as visa requirements and deadlines, entry instructions, and other types of immigration guidelines.

What Are Some Penalties for Illegal Immigration Violations?

Illegal immigration is a very serious violation, and accordingly, can lead to some heavy legal consequences. These may vary depending on the situations, but illegal immigration will almost always harm a person’s chances at relocating from another country to the United States.

Some legal penalties for illegal immigration violations can include:

  • Denial of an immigration-related application
  • Removal (deportation) of the person from the U.S. back to the country of origin
  • Ban on re-entry (anywhere from 5-10 years; in case of repeat violations, a lifetime ban may be enforced)
  • Criminal charges, especially if fraud or other white-collar crime was involved
  • Loss of chances at obtaining U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process
  • Loss of various civic rights and privileges

Legal penalties for illegal immigration violations can extend to U.S. citizens as well. For instance, if a U.S. citizen assisted a person in immigrating illegally, the citizen may face criminal consequences as well. 

Similarly, an employer who knowingly hires an illegal immigrant may suffer criminal penalties, and in some states, they may be subject to a fine and/or loss of their business-operating license. 

Can an Illegal Immigrant Become a Legal Immigrant?

Even if you are in the country illegally, you still may be able to become a legal immigrant through obtaining lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. There are several avenues for obtaining lawful permanent resident status, including:

  • Family-based visas
  • Employment visas
  • Fiancé or marriage-based avenues
  • Asylum and refugee status

What If I Become a Legal Resident?

If you become a legal resident, then you must change your status. In order to obtain a change or adjustment of status, the applicant must specifically file a request with the U.S. immigration authorities. In other words, the process in not generally granted in an automatic way. The person must also meet various requirements, such as:

  • There must be a permanent visa slot available for the applicant that year
  • Various immigration forms, including Form I-485, must be completed
  • The applicant must not be in the country illegally
  • The applicant must not have worked illegally in the U.S.

Also, the applicant might not be available for a change of status if they have entered the country using a visa waiver, or under similar special circumstances. A change of status is typically granted to persons who have traveled to the U.S. on a temporary visa such as a marriage visa or certain types of work visas and are looking to relocate permanently in the country.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help Me with Illegal Immigration Laws?

Illegal immigration is a major violation that generally requires the representation of a qualified U.S. immigration attorney. If you or a loved one has been implicated in illegal immigration charges, you may need to hire a lawyer in your area immediately. Your attorney can provide advice and representation on a variety of immigration matters, and can keep you informed if there are any recent changes to U.S. immigration laws and policies.