While former President Barack Obama deported an unprecedented number of undocumented immigrants during his eight years in office, Donald Trump appears bent not just on deportation but on treating that population with malice and contempt.
“Illegal” isn’t actually the right word to describe undocumented aliens – it is not a criminal offense to be in the United States without documentation. “It’s a civil violation, not a criminal offense,” explained Bob Libal, the executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a Texas nonprofit fighting to end the use of private prisons in the United States. Civil violations generally result in tickets or fines. Undocumented aliens can be deported as well, but they are not criminals. Thus there is no criminal record connected with a civil violation.
“What is happening now,” Libal said, “is that asylum seekers are being pushed back, pushed away when they try to seek asylum, leaving them the only option of trying to cross the border illegally. When they do, they are arrested under the unauthorized entry statute, which allows them to be separated from their children. This is a choice that Jeff Sessions is making. There is little or no precedent for using criminal prosecution as a blunt instrument against children and their moms or dads. Other administrations have done a lot of bad things, but up until now, we have not ripped kids from their parents in order to prosecute those parents.”
While unauthorized entry is only a misdemeanor — despite being used as a way to instill fear into tens of thousands of people — unauthorized reentry is a felony, punishable by up to two years in federal prison.
“People caught reentering after they’ve been deported do an average of 14 months in prison before they are sent to a civil detention center for deportation,” Libal said. “That applies only to those with no criminal history. If you are caught reentering or being here after being deported and have criminal charges, well, those enhancements can bring that up to 20 years.” Read more about Tightening the Screws