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Civil immigration sanctions should not be termed illegal

Readers have probably heard media references to illegal immigrants. However, a recent article reminds us that the term might be misleading.

Take the case of visitors that have lawfully entered the United States on a visa, but then overstayed their visit. Under immigration law, this offense may result in an administrative, rather than criminal sanction. According to one commentator, referring to offenders in this category as illegal immigrants is inaccurate. Instead, they should be referred to as undocumented immigrants to reflect the potential civil remedy. That approach also recognizes the discretion of the executive branch to decide who may stay in the country. 

Granted, there might be other circumstances to explain why an individual is in the country without a valid visa. Yet the commentator claims that being discovered without a visa is still a civil, rather than criminal issue. In one example, a boy born in the Philippines visited his grandparents in the United States, who kept him past his visa’s expiration date. The boy didn’t realize he was not a permanent resident until years later, when he applied for a driver’s license. Only then did local authorities inform him that some of his personal identification documents were not legitimate.

A lawyer that focuses on immigration matters knows that there are many options for individuals facing documentation or even deportation issues. Children under the age of 21, spouses and parents of American citizens may have immediate family member immigration options. Certain family members may also be able to sponsor an individual for permanent residency, or a green card.

Source: The Week, “There's no such thing as an 'illegal immigrant',” Marc Ambinder, May 1, 2014

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