Prosecutions for immigration offenses in federal courts more than tripled between 1996 and 2003 according to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics to nearly 21,000 cases. Since 9/11 prosecutions have continued to increase with an the average sentence or 21.5 months in prison for immigration offenses plus detention in U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) custody or voluntary deportation. The rate of prisoners serving time for immigration offenses has increased at more than twice the rate for the entire federal prison system. The likelihood of receiving a prison sentence for an immigration conviction increased from 57 percent before 9/11 to almost 81 percent in 2003.

Definitions Under INA – 274C

INA – 274C makes it unlawful for “any person or entity, alien or non-alien to knowingly create, use or submit fraudulent documents to USCIS such as:

To knowingly forge, alter counterfeit or make documents to obtain INA benefits or to satisfy an INA requirement.

To attempt to use, obtain, receive, provide or accept a fraudulent document that is forged, altered counterfeit or falsely made to obtain INA benefits or to satisfy an INA requirement.

To present a lawfully issued to or with respect to another person in order to

To provide, accept or receive any document lawfully issued to or with respect to a person other than the possessor for the purpose of obtaining employment.

To file, to assist in filing, or to prepare an application to be filed in order to obtain INA benefits or to satisfy an INA requirement.

To file, to assist in filing or to prepare any application in order in order to obtain INA benefits or to satisfy an INA requirement with “knowledge or in reckless disregard of the fact that such an application was falsely made and doesn't apply to the person who submitted the fraudulent documentation.

To present false documentation for the purpose of boarding a plane or other common carrier in order to enter the United States illegally and then fail to present legal documentation to immigration officials upon arrival.


There are a wide range of penalties under INA – 274C for offenses such as putting false information on an I-9, using forged documents to obtain a green card or presenting a false passport. The only exception is for using a false passport to escape a country in which you have a well-founded fear of persecution. The alien must report his wish for asylum to an INS Officer immediately upon arriving in the United States.

If the INS finds you have submitted, created, provided someone with or used a fraudulent document, the INS will issue a Notice of Intent to Fine (NIF). The NIF lists charges, the amount of the fine they are seeking and advice that the offender has a right to counsel, the right not to self-incriminate and the right to a hearing within 60 days. The NIF will also list the consequences of not requesting a hearing.

Fines, penalties and court orders for violating INA - 274C include:

The convicted offender may be ordered to cease and desist engaging in the unlawful activity and assessed a civil money penalty.

Money penalties for first-time offenders range between $275 and $2,200 for each fraudulent document or proscribed activity. If the offense occurred before 1999 the fine is between $250 and $2,000 for each violation.

Convictions for subsequent offenses may be levied civil penalties between $2,200 and $5,500. for offenses prior to September 1999 are between $2,000 and $5,000 for each violation.

Prison Sentences:

Persons presenting, supplying or creating fraudulent documents in an attempt to obtain a VISA to gain entry into the US or to obtain INA benefits or satisfy an INA requirement can face up to 20 years in prison depending on the extent of the fraud. Other charges such as identity theft can be added to fraudulent document charges when stolen identities or social security numbers are part of the false documentation.

Additional related charges of identity theft can add 3 to 5 years to any sentence for document fraud. If terrorism is involved it can add 25 years to any other prison terms you receive.

Photo courtesy of Gravitywave via Flickr