How Crossing the Border Became a Crime

This is the history of Section 1325 — the federal law used to justify family separations at the border.

Has the U.S. ever been "Borderless"?

A little-known provision of U.S. immigration law is taking the spotlight in the 2020 election. Section 1325 is a federal law used to justify family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border. The law makes entering the U.S. outside of a port of entry a federal misdemeanor. Though authorities could still deport immigrants who hadn’t gone through an official entry point, they couldn’t be detained and prosecuted for a federal crime. But that all changed in 1929 when the U.S. passed a bill to restrict a group of immigrants it hadn’t really focused on before: people who crossed the U.S.-Mexican border.

The origin of Section 1325 goes back to 1929, when South Carolina senator and avowed white supremacist Coleman Livingston Blease introduced a bill into Congress. Several years later, in 1929, this new law was passed to create a crime for individuals who were coming to the United States outside of that quota-based process. For decades, Section 1325 was rarely enforced. Those caught crossing the border were deported without criminal prosecution. That changed in 2005 in George W. Bush’s administration.

There were about 40,000 Criminal prosecutions for immigration that year according to data from Syracuse University. Under President Barack Obama, immigration criminal prosecutions went up to 90,000 in 2013. In defending its “zero tolerance” border policy that has caused the separation of families, the Trump administration has argued that the Obama and Bush administrations did this too. That’s misleading. Experts say there were some separations under previous administrations, but no blanket policy to prosecute parents and, therefore, separate them from their children. In 2018, criminal prosecutions for immigration reached about 100,000. Section 1325 enabled the Trump administration to separate children from their parents. Castro says he will repeal Section 1325 and have civil courts handle deportations. Former congressman Beto O’Rourke disagrees and the battle of U.S. immigration continues on.


07/03/2019 11:57 AMupdated: 07/03/2019 2:34 PM
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  • Richard E.
    07/04/2019 00:21


  • Elizabeth T.
    07/04/2019 01:00

    There is a reason we have quotas. There a over 4 billion people on this planet that are worse off than even the poorest Americans. We as a nation cannot take in 4 billion people. 1 million a year is the number of immigrants that are granted citizenship in the United States. They manage to follow the law and wait their turn. Anyone that chooses to impatiently circumvent our laws are spitting in the face of every law abiding immigrants that follows the rules. Rewarding those that come here illegally is a guaranteed disaster in the making, the likes of which mankind has never seen before.

  • Salman K.
    07/04/2019 06:25

    Obviously its a crime entering any country illegally

  • Abraham Y.
    07/04/2019 07:03

    Who asked these people to come to the border? There's no violence, no starvation, no unemployment and no persecution. 95% of the people are staying in their country. But others are lured by AOC and others to come to the border giving them the hope that they would force Trump to open the border. Border security is having a hard time to accommodate these thronging strangers, giving them food, clothing and shelter. Irresponsible AOC can blame the officers without helping them. She's a hypocrite and voted against the Bill to give more comforts to the migrants. Why do these people come here? Presidents of El Salvador and Mexico have urged these people to come back home. Democrats should urge these people to go back to their country.

  • Rick W.
    07/06/2019 18:48

    Why are people being criminalized for seeking legal asylum. Everyone who comes to the border legally has their children taken and incarcerated. WHY

  • David W.
    07/07/2019 13:22

    So NBC didn't care for USA

  • Brut
    07/08/2019 19:53

    Julián Castro battled with Beto O’Rourke over Section 1325 during the first Democratic debate.

  • Pam P.
    07/10/2019 19:40

    Apply and wait. Its 1 million people coming here legally every year. Our borders need to be closed to protect America. No illegal entry.

  • Thora P.
    07/10/2019 19:42

    It’s against the law period and it needs to be handled that wAy. No exceptions

  • Jay G.
    07/10/2019 21:34

    Personally just stop wasting money on the camps. Bullets are far cheaper!

  • Larry M.
    07/11/2019 15:01

    Our president is doing the right job

  • Kevin G.
    07/12/2019 03:07

    Send them all back = no seperation

  • Manuel L.
    07/12/2019 10:44

    What about Bill Clinton in 96 to separate children from their parents you gloss over that

  • Joe R.
    07/12/2019 18:19


  • Nick H.
    07/13/2019 21:37

    Nice clean clothes of people that traveled how for to get here.

  • Lavern W.
    07/14/2019 06:32

    Run of die

  • Dan P.
    07/15/2019 02:27

    Come illegally- deported, no criminal record. Back of the line for legal entry. Do it again, same thing. 3rd strike- banned entry. It's that simple

  • John P.
    07/15/2019 12:34

    If I broke the law with my kids with me I would be separated from my kids. Why should they be different?

  • Eric P.
    07/15/2019 14:25

    Should be a felony. Add a 10 year prison term before deportation and watch people figure out how to respect our laws.

  • Jay K.
    07/17/2019 03:14

    What are these idiots called oh the idiots