Illegal immigration has been a hot topic in the news in recent years, but it seems to be a bit misunderstood. An illegal immigrant is a person who enters the country without informing federal officers, such as those at the border that they are in the country. It also means they are living or working within the United States without proper documentation.

Is it a crime to enter or be in the United States illegally? Can you go to prison if you or someone you know is in the country undocumented? Here is what you need to know.

Improper Entry Is A CrimeBut Not A Federal One

The most common crime that is associated with illegal immigration is improper entry, or coming into the country illegally. This can be done a few different ways. It can mean if you have entered the United States or try to enter the country at a spot that is not an official border crossing and instead opt for a field, across a river, or through a forest crossing that is unmanned.

It also includes trying to elude inspection and questioning by immigration officers and by knowingly concealing information about yourself such as your name and where you were born. This could also include if you give out false information.

While these are considered crimes, they are not federal offenses. They are considered misdemeanors, and usually, the punishment isn't as harsh. For example, you could face a fine of several hundred dollars or up to several months in prison.

Unlawful Presence Is Not A Crime

Another way that most people assume illegal immigration is a crime is through unlawful presence.|This is when an immigrant has come into the country—either by way of improper entry or through a work or student visa that has now expired—and stay beyond their legal right to do so.

This is not considered a crime, however, but a violation of federal law. You are not supposed to stay in the country past the length of your visa or the length of time the government granted you permission to stay.

You will not face prison time for this, though. Instead, you or your loved one could face severe civil penalties such as deportation or removal from the country. If you are removed from the country, it can make it difficult to re-enter at a later date or even apply for permanent residence status or citizenship.

For more information, talk to an immigration attorney.