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Criminal entry to the United States is now a Democratic talking point — and it’s worth considering how we got here and how far the Democrats have moved since liberal lion Sen. Ted Kennedy made the penalty for illegal entry more severe.

Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) makes entering the United States without an inspection a crime. During the first Democratic presidential debate, Julian Castro insisted it should only be a civil offense, challenged his opponents to agree, and was lauded as a result.


Decriminalization would eliminate the statute’s value as a deterrent, which was not only part of its original intent, but also was supported by both Republicans and Democrats until very recently.

History of the entry without inspection provision

The Immigration Act of 1924 established national immigration quotas that favored immigrants from northern and western Europe over immigrants from the southern and eastern parts of the continent, and banned most immigration from Asia.

Nativist politicians wanted to restrict Mexican immigration too, but American employers who relied heavily on cheap Mexican labor stopped them.

A white supremacist senator named Coleman Livingston Blease (D-S.C.) proposed a compromise. Instead of establishing a cap on the number of legal immigrants from Mexico, pass a law making illegal crossings between ports of entry a crime.

A provision in the Immigration Act of 1929 implemented his proposal by making entry without inspection a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than $1,000, or both.

Section 275 of the INA of 1952 made a first entry without inspection a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than six months, or a fine of not more than $500, or both; and subsequent offenses a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than two years, or a fine of not more than $1,000, or both.

The notion of criminal penalties as a deterrent to illegal crossing was accepted by both parties.

In section 543(b)(2) of his Immigration Act of 1990, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) made punishment for illegal entries more severe by amending section 275 to raise the cap on fines for a first offense to $2,000.

Read more at https://thehill.com/opinion/immigrat...try-abandoning

Published originally on The Hill

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an executive branch immigration law expert for three years. He subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years. Follow him on Twitter @NolanR1