I recently heard a noted immigration advocate comment that it was not a crime to enter the United States without proper documentation or authorization. Simply put, this immigration advocate is wrong. For example, federal laws such as 8 U.S.C. §§ 1325 and 1326, govern illegal entry into the United States. Individual states may also have laws which address illegal entry as well.
Title 8 Section 1325 of the U.S. Code makes it a crime for "any alien" to gain or attempt to gain access into the U.S. without proper examination or inspection, at times or locations apart from those authorized by immigration officers, or by gaining entrance by providing false or misleading information. The typical fines for these violations range from $50-$500 with possible imprisonment up to two years. However, entrance into the U.S. by other fraudulent means such as illegitimate marriage or deceptive immigration-related entrepreneurship also constitute illegal entry and those convicted face fines up to $250,000, imprisonment up to 5 years, or both.
Additionally, 8 U.S.C. § 1326 expands on the criminal aspects and punishments of illegal entry for those who have previously been denied entry, disqualified, extradited, or removed from the U.S., or who have left the U.S. with pending orders of exclusion, deportation, or removal and re-enter or attempt to re-enter the U.S. unlawfully. The punishments carry prison terms up to 2 years, fines, or both. In addition, there are criminal penalties that may amount to imprisonment up to 20 years with possible additional fines for individuals re-entering the U.S. who have been previously removed on specific grounds, such as those convicted of three or more misdemeanors related to drugs or crimes against others or those convicted of felonies.