Rocky yet to correct inaccurate immigration chart that stated illegal presence in the U.S. currently a misdemeanor

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

The Rocky Mountain News has not corrected a chart comparing House and Senate immigration bills that inaccurately stated illegal presence in the United States is a misdemeanor. Illegal presence is not a criminal offense; it is a civil offense punishable by civil sanctions and deportation.


UPDATE: On September 13 the Rocky Mountain News corrected the chart noted in this item.

As of September 7, The Rocky Mountain News had not corrected a chart comparing House and Senate immigration bills that inaccurately stated illegal presence in the United States is a misdemeanor. As Colorado Media Matters noted August 30, under current law, illegal presence is not a criminal offense; it is a civil offense punishable by civil sanctions and deportation.

The News chart, compiled by reporter Laura Frank, compared current House and Senate immigration bills as well as a "compromise" bill yet to be introduced. The chart inaccurately stated that the House bill "[m]akes being in the United States without authorization a felony. Currently, it is a misdemeanor." Elsewhere in the chart, the News claimed the House bill
"[w]ould change illegal presence in the country from a misdemeanor to a felony."

It is true that the House bill would attach felony penalties to an illegal alien's unlawful presence in the United States. But current law does not, as the News claimed, subject those who are illegally present in the United States to criminal penalties, either misdemeanor or felony, as Colorado Media Matters noted.

According to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months of imprisonment to enter the U.S. illegally. However, the INA provides no such criminal penalties for the estimated 11 million immigrants who are illegally present in the country.

Furthermore, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), sponsor of the House bill, explained in a floor statement from December 16, 2005, that "under current law, illegal entry into the United States makes an alien subject to a Federal criminal misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 6 months in prison. However, unlawful presence itself, such as by overstaying a visa, is not a criminal offense, but only a civil ground of inadmissibility."

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