Felonies and Misdemeanors

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The immigration debate has highlighted that many people know little about our criminal justice system.

There are two basic classes of criminal offense: felony and misdemeanor. Being in this country illegally, with no additional crimes, is a misdemeanor.

Both misdemeanors and felonies are punishable by deporation, fines, and imprisonment. The difference is primarily of degree: a prison sentence of a year or more requires a felony charge.

Current law says there is a fine and maximum prison sentence of six months for illegally entering the country, eluding immigration officials, or entering the country by lying/concealing information. The House bill did two things: it increased the penalty to one year, and it added "otherwise present in the United States in violation of the immigration laws or the regulations prescribed thereunder" to the definition.

This last part is really just a housekeeping detail, for most practical purposes: the overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants in this country entered the country illegally. Adding it to the law makes it easier to prove in court, but for overwhelmingly most people, does not change culpability.

So if you entered the country illegally, all it means is that a. the government can more easily prove you broke the law which you actually broke, so whining about that fact just makes you look stupid, and b. the maximum penalty for that crime you broke is doubled, and since we don't want to put most of you in jail because it costs us too much, this has no practical effect.

Now, for the relatively few illegal aliens who entered the country legally, and then lost their legal status, this does represent a substantive change. But for everyone else -- the people most angry about it, and marching in the streets -- it does not.

But since the news media doesn't tell you these things, it requires actually reading the law on your own.

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<pudge/*> (pronounced "PudgeGlob") is thousands of posts over many years by Pudge.

"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

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This page contains a single entry by pudge published on May 10, 2006 9:42 AM.

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