At a recent Christian Science Monitor breakfast, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Shultz (D-FL) denounced Republicans for thinking that illegal immigration should “in fact be a crime.” (Fox News, May 31, 2011) The incoming chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee told listeners that Democrats want “comprehensive immigration reform” and that the 12 million illegal aliens currently in the U.S. are “a necessity” for the economy. She then said that the general “Republican solution … in the last three years is that we should just pack them all up and ship them back to their own countries and that in fact it should be a crime and we should arrest them all.” That, she said, is what Rep. Sensenbrenner’s 2005 legislation proposed.
Rep. Wasserman-Shultz may be dismayed to learn that illegal immigration is, in fact, already a crime. As codified in 8 U.S.C. § 1325, federal law provides that an alien who unlawfully enters the United States is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in prison. (See also INA § 275(a)) Second and subsequent offenses are felonies, punishable by up to two years in prison. (Id.) Moreover, federal law provides that any alien who is present in the U.S. in violation of the law is deportable and “shall be removed” subject to an order. (See generally 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(1)(A) and (B); INA § 237(a)(1)(A) and (B))
Wasserman-Shultz may also be embarrassed to learn that Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner’s 2005 immigration bill (H.R.4437) proposed nothing that would have altered the fact that illegal entry is a crime. What H.R.4437 addressed was visa overstays, which account for roughly 30 to 40 percent of the illegal alien population in the U.S. Federal law provides that overstaying one’s visa is only a civil offense, not a criminal offense. (See generally INA § 222(g) and § 212(a)(9)(B)) By proposing criminal penalties for overstaying one’s visa, and thus being unlawfully present in the U.S., H.R.4437 sought to put one violation of the law on par with the other. (See H.R.4437 § 203)