ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION: CIVIL OR CRIMINAL VIOLATION?
Commenter Crusader quotes my "You'd think they were committing serial murder instead of violating a civil (not criminal) law in order to feed their families" statement and takes exception:
Actually, they are *indeed* violating criminal law, not civil law. Civil law is the branch of law that deals with disputes between individuals--its primarily invoked in business disputes. Those that enter this country illegally have violated the *criminal* code (regardless of how harmless their intention may have been).
This may be a matter of confusing language. Crusader is right in part -- a key difference between criminal and civil law is that in criminal law the government always brings the charges, while in civil law parties to a dispute do (although the government may be the plaintiff in some civil cases). But I am not alone in characterizing illegal immigration as a violation of "civil law" as opposed to the criminal code. See here at Newsday:
In general, anyone who enters the United States without a valid document or someone who entered legally but violated their visa by, for example, staying longer than allowed.
Currently, it is a civil violation and the immigrant can be deported.
"Immigration law is civil law; law enforcement never enforces civil law," Salas said.
Local police agencies do not enforce immigration law just as they don’t go after tax evaders because both are civil laws.
What Judiciary Committee Chair F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., proposes in his anti-immigration bill — passed in the House in December and up for a vote in the Senate this month — is making U.S. entry a crime.
My point is, and was, that violations of civil laws such as clean air, clean water, and hazardous waste regulations that are held to be in the public interest are more analogous to illegal immigration than criminal felonies such as theft, rape or murder. Until or unless it is changed, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 assesses a single penalty for crossing the border illegally: deportation. No criminal penalty such as jail time.
If illegal immigration was already what we all think of as a "crime" (something that merits "time"), the provisions in House Bill 4437 that seek to make it a felony wouldn't be necessary.
Tags: illegal immigration