When you think of someone facing federal charges, you probably picture a really bad person. Maybe you think of a drug lord, a gang member that’s killed people, a human trafficker or someone equally worthy of federal investigation and incarceration.
You probably aren’t thinking about an immigrant who fled his or her home due to actual or threatened violence and crossed the United States border seeking asylum. Nor are you probably thinking about the 20-year-old — brought to the country illegally by his parents when he was only two — who just made a traffic error.
Unfortunately, that second group of people has become a much bigger focus for federal law enforcement than many people realize. According to the Justice Department, noncitizens account for 64% of all federal arrests these days — mostly for immigration offenses. In the 20 years between 1998 and 2018, federal arrests of noncitizens for immigration offenses rose 440%. Compare that figure to this one: In that same period, the arrests of noncitizens for other federal crimes rose only 8%.
The reality is that the people being arrested for federal crimes unrelated to immigration are United States citizens. For example, they account for 91% of all arrests for violent crimes and 96% of all arrests for weapons charges.
The lesson here is clear: If you are not a citizen of the United States and are in this country without the proper authority, you have a federal target on your back. Almost any mistake you make that puts you on the radar of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could also put you behind bars.
If you’re charged with a federal immigration offense, it’s wise to seek legal assistance familiar with the problems of international clients as soon as possible.