The immigration process in the United States is complex, and that is no accident. The government has a strict protocol for inspecting those wishing to enter the country. The purpose behind this complicated process is to protect the country and its citizens.
If you wish to enter the U.S., you must go through the proper channels before you enter or present yourself to border agents when you arrive. Failing to follow the rules for lawful entry into the U.S. is called entry without inspection. This is a criminal offense that may lead to serious, long-term consequences.
Bans for unlawful presence
Your reasons for wishing to enter the U.S. may be varied. Perhaps you already have family here, you are hoping to find a good job or you are escaping a terrible situation in your own country. For each of these reasons and others, there are legal channels you can follow to obtain a lawful presence, either through a visa or green card program. However, crossing the border without the appropriate authorization may result in detention and a ban that can prevent you from achieving these goals for many years.
If you are unlawfully in the country between 180 days and one year without inspection, you can voluntarily leave the U.S., but you will be forbidden from returning for three years. If you remain longer than one year, the government will ban you for 10 years after you voluntarily leave. Failing to leave on your own accord may result in deportation and a permanent ban from returning.
Exceptions and waivers
Despite the stringent rules governing immigration in the U.S., the government also has numerous compassionate avenues you may try to seek lawful presence status. For example, you may be eligible for a waiver of the re-entry ban if you can demonstrate that such a ban will create an extreme difficulty for the family you will leave behind in the U.S. You may also qualify for a visa, making your presence legal, if you meet certain requirements, for example, being present in the U.S. prior to 2000.
Your circumstances may qualify you for other options. A skilled immigration attorney can assist you in finding the most appropriate way to try to protect you from the harsh consequences of your entry without inspection and your subsequent unlawful presence.