First, I'll acknowledge that "serious" is subjective, however there is (probably) consensus that sentences imposed are reflective of the seriousness of a crime.

USAtoday (6-18-18)

USA TODAY examined 2,598 written judgments in border-crossing cases filed in federal courts along the border since mid-May. In nearly 70 percent of those cases, migrants pleaded guilty and immediately received a sentence of time served, meaning they would spend no additional time in jail. Another 13 percent were sentenced to unsupervised probation, including a condition that they not illegally re-enter the United States. In both cases, that meant they would immediately be returned to immigration officials to be processed for deportation, leaving them in essentially the same position as if they had not been prosecuted. full article here

So, was there any point (in 84% of these cases) to invest time and effort in a criminal referral and prosecution? Does that suggest that the judges don't think that a serious crime has been committed?

(Feel free to migrate to Politics if that seems to be the better place for this)

  • What motivates posing said question? Just curious
    – gatorback
    Commented Apr 3, 2021 at 3:25

1 Answer 1


As you said, "serious" is a subjective description of a crime, but most lawyers would probably have the same first reaction when asked to make the distinction: Is it a felony or a misdemeanor? Felonies are objectively more serious because they come with longer sentences, as well as a variety of awful collateral consequences -- lost voting rights, disqualification from gun ownership, etc.

By that standard, unlawful entry into the United States (8 U.S. Code § 1325) is not, in most cases, a serious crime. For a first offense, it's a misdemeanor punishable by at most six months in jail. For subsequent offenses, though, it's a felony punishable by up to two years.

I'd agree that the sentences meted out suggest that the judges don't view this offense as a particularly serious one. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it was pointless to prosecute. For instance, the first prosecution enables a harsher sentence if the immigrant lands in front of the judge again, and I'd bet that a fair share of the harsher sentences involved repeat offenders. Also, if you think that being a nation of laws means that we should always enforce every law (or if you at least believe this when it comes to immigrants), then the prosecutions are their own reward.

  • yes, (without further info), your probably correct that ~17% may have been second offenders. And I agree that you can't very well be a second offender if you were not prosecuted for the first offense. Having said that, one wonders what the distinction might have been between those that were convicted and fined, versus those that we convicted and sentenced to unsupervised probation. (I am assuming both groups were then turned over for deportation). Lastly, if we truely are a nation of laws, then beliefs and prosecutorial discretion should have no role. Thanks
    – BobE
    Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 2:39
  • 1
    One element of prosecutorial discretion that will pretty much never disappear regardless of how strictly any nation is "a nation of laws" is that of the allocation of resources. The government simply cannot afford to pursue every infraction that it knows about. That's been illustrated by the recent events on the US border, in which some people have been given court dates three years in the future.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 3:45
  • 2
    For comparison purposes, this offense has the same seriousness as impersonating a 4-H Club member. 18 USC § 916. law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/916 But, it would have more collateral effects on immigration status in the event of another detention for not being in the U.S. for lawful status or in the event of an attempt to immigrate legally to the U.S.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 20:53

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