Turning Migrants into Criminals:  The Harmful Impact of US Border Prosecutions (Human Rights Watch 2013)

Human Rights Watch. “Turning Migrants into Criminals: The Harmful Impact of US Border Prosecutions.” 2013. https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/05/22/turning-migrants-criminals/harmful-impact-us-border-prosecutions.

Illegal entry and presence in the United States without authorization violate US civil immigration law and are punishable by removal from the country and other civil law penalties. The act of entering the United States without authorization (illegal entry) and the act of reentering after deportation (illegal reentry) are also federal crimes. Both offenses have existed as federal crimes in various forms since the early 20th century, but the sentences, rates of prosecution, and justifications for prosecution have changed over the years.

This report is based on interviews and research conducted from February 2012 to April 2013. In all, Human Rights Watch conducted 191 interviews with individuals charged with illegal entry or reentry, their families, unauthorized migrants who have repeatedly entered the United States, criminal defense attorneys, immigration attorneys, prosecutors, judges, and representatives of humanitarian and advocacy organizations. We interviewed 55 people convicted of illegal entry or reentry, and interviewed family members or lawyers in another 18 cases—for a total of 73 separate case accounts. We examined publicly available court records in 62 cases, including some cases for which we also had interviews and some for which we did not. Finally, we corresponded with 35 individuals (including two whose family members we interviewed) serving sentences in federal prison for illegal entry or reentry, who consented to participate in our research.