Immigration Crimes Within The United States

Immigration in the United States is highly regulated and governed by federal laws.  There is no such thing as California immigration laws or New York immigration laws.  The only laws dealing with immigration benefits in the United States are federal laws.  For this reason, when a person gets charged with an “immigration crime” it will be for violating a federal law. 

There are a number of different types of activities involving immigration that can lead to serious federal charges.  Many people might not even perceive certain conduct to be criminal.  However, the government has a complicated framework of criminal laws that can reach all kinds of conduct.  Understanding the breadth and scope of federal laws is important in order to appreciate how the federal government can prosecute a person for various immigration related conduct. 

Illegal Reentry

A person who has been legally “removed” from the United States via a deportation order or who has been denied entry into the United States that then reenters the country commits a felony crime.  Specifically, 8 U.S.C. §1326 make it a federal crime to enter into the United States after being deported or being denied entry in the first place.  This is one of the most common immigration crimes prosecuted by the United States Department of Justice.  This is also a fairly easy crime for the government to prosecute because it only requires the government to establish (1) a defendant’s true identity and (2) the defendant was in fact deported or denied entry. 

There are often compelling circumstances that drive people to reenter the United States after having been deported.  For example, the individual may have immediate family living here.  However, regardless of motivation, entering the United States after having been denied entry or having been deported is a serious crime that carries with it significant penalties.  For this reason, it is prudent to consult with a highly experienced attorney that understands both immigration and federal criminal law before taking any actions that can lead to serious consequences.

Document Fraud

Using or creating an identity document to receive immigration benefits, such as entry into the United States or other benefits, can lead to severe penalties.  Under 18 U.S.C. §1546 fraudulent use of identity documents in connection with immigration can lead to up to 10 years in prison. 

The penalties are even more enhanced if the fraudulent use of documents in the immigration context involves a drug crime or terrorism.  This type of crime is very serious and prosecuted aggressively by federal authorities because it strikes at the heart of the immigration system’s integrity.  Having an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in a case involving document fraud is very important. 

Immigration Services Fraud

In many immigrant communities in the United States, there are people that prey on the vulnerable and misinformed.  For instance, in many Latino communities, there are individuals called “notarios” that handle legal filings and claim to be able to file immigration related paperwork.  Notarios are not uncommon in many Latin and South American countries and, in many respects, are the functional equivalent of paralegals.  Given their familiarity with what notarios can do in their home countries, many unsuspecting people trust them to handle important legal matters in the United States. 

It is important to note, there is nothing illegal or improper with being a notario.  And, in fact, in many immigrant communities there are notarios that do important work on behalf of people that may not otherwise be able to afford a lawyer.  However, scamming people by charging exorbitant fees for worthless services or services that the notario is not qualified to perform can constitute a crime. 

Most immigration services fraud cases are prosecuted under traditional federal mail and wire fraud statutes. In some instances, immigration services fraud can also be prosecuted under state laws.  For instance, practicing law without a valid license is a crime in most states.  The federal government comes down especially hard in immigration services fraud cases because there are usually identifiable victims that have been cheated or been taken advantage of in a significant way.  These are cases that have significant jury appeal from the government’s perspective because they involve sympathetic victims. 

Marriage Fraud

 Marrying a United States citizen solely for the purpose of obtaining an immigration benefit can be a federal crime.  Specifically, 8 U.S.C. § 1325 makes it a federal crime to enter into a fraudulent marriage for the purpose of evading immigration laws.  These are not easy crimes for the government to prove because the government has to show fraudulent intent.  People marry for all kinds of reasons, often love has very little to do with it.  Thus, whether a marriage is truly fraudulent often involves many murky questions.  It is rare for the government to prosecute these types of cases but they are not unheard of. 

The most common scenario involving this type of crime is where an individual orchestrates a number of United States citizens marrying foreign nationals for cash payments.  This is viewed by the government as a fraud on the system and it is in these types of situations that the government will often take swift and forceful action.    


The law is very nuanced. Federal prosecutors have almost unlimited advantages and resources at their disposal. Having attorneys on your team that understand the law, keep abreast of legal developments in the law, have the experience dealing with the complexities of federal statutes and, finally, possess the skills to stand before a jury to make a compelling case on behalf of a client are not just important qualities, they’re critical. At The Federal Defenders. we pride ourselves on being advocates for our clients. With decades of experience with all variety and manner of federal criminal issues and defenses, we understand what it takes to put our clients in a winning position. For a free and confidential consultation, call us today at (800) 712-0000. Just like our toll-free number, we operate nationwide.