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Traveling Tips for Immigrants

Holidays are coming up and that means – travel.  If you plan on traveling or having loved ones who are immigrants coming to see you, you should make sure that your travel plans are safe for everyone involved.

It’s terrible to lose your green card, get arrested, or get put into deportation proceedings simply for wanting to be with those you love. This article will explain how travel in the US might impact you, as an undocumented immigrant, as a green card holder, as a naturalized citizen, or as a visa holder. Later on, you’ll also learn what to do and what your rights are during removal proceedings, and how you can help yourself when you make contact with law enforcement. The final part of the article will discuss how immigration could be under Biden.

Traveling without Legal Status

If you are traveling – no matter your method of travel – without legal status, you can be detained at any time and put into removal proceedings. This has been happening more and more during this administration, so you should be aware that it is always possible. 

Before this administration, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) could stop anyone within 100 miles of a border and ask to see documentation that proves they are legally in the US. Since this administration came into power, they changed that to allow CBP to stop people anywhere in the US. 

Flying into the US

Anyone who boards a plane in the US must have a valid ID. A valid ID is one issued by the government and not yet expired. If you are flying, talk to the airline and the airport you are departing from (in both directions) so that whatever ID you have meets their requirements. An example of this is a foreign passport. 

Beginning October 2020 you were supposed to be required to have a REAL-ID but DHS extended the requirement for a REAL-ID for a year so after October 1, 2021, your ID has to be a “REAL-ID compliant.” For some airlines, they may accept state ID cards. These should also be REAL-ID compliant when that is required. 

Riding a car into the US

If you are traveling by car, there is always a chance you can be stopped by local police. Local police are only allowed to question your legal status if they have been deputized by DHS to do so. Many jurisdictions have done this so we can’t say it won’t happen. 

If you are stopped by the police, the best policy is to be respectful. Do not argue, lie, run, or be combative.  Police officers can use force if they feel threatened so don’t do anything that they might see as threatening. Read here to know what to do if stopped by the police no matter if you traveled by car, bus, or train

Riding a car as a passenger 

While the police need a valid reason to stop a car, they are free to question anyone in the vehicle. If you are a passenger, you only must provide your ID. You do not have to say where you were born. You do not have to answer how you entered the US or if you are a citizen of the US or any other country. 

You do not need to answer their questions but if you don’t, you may be detained and/or arrested. You should say, out loud, “I am invoking my right to silence.” Police do know that they shouldn’t ask you questions after you say this, but it is not a guarantee they won’t keep trying.  You can always ask the police if you can leave and if they say yes, you should slowly and calmly walk away from the situation. 

Can the police search the car?

The police must have your consent before they search the car or your belongings. You should say “No, I do not consent to your search.” If they search anyway do not fight with them or resist the search. 

Riding a bus in the US

You do need a valid ID if you are traveling by bus. 

There have been instances of CPB and ICE boarding buses in the past few years and asking to see ID. They have also questioned people about their legal status. You do not need to answer their questions about your legal status. You may need to show them your ID. If you do not show a valid ID or refuse to answer their questions, they may detain or arrest you. You can still request to talk to your attorney if this happens. 

Travel by train in the US

If you are traveling by local trains you don’t usually need to have an ID, only a ticket. It still is better if you do have an ID. If you are traveling by Amtrak (across the country or through several states) you do need to have a valid government ID but they don’t often check it. They usually just scan your ticket. 

Traveling as a Green Card Holder

People who leave the US for too long may be considered to have “abandoned” their green card. This was discussed in detail in the previous video, which you can watch here. If you leave the US, you should watch it to know what you should or should not do. 

If you are a green card holder, whether you are a conditional or permanent green card holder, you should not have any issues when traveling within the US as long as you have government ID and a copy of your green card to show if requested. 

Traveling as a Citizen

As a citizen, you have no travel restrictions (except for COVID ones) within or without the US. That is why it’s always recommended that you become a citizen as soon as possible after getting your green card. 

Traveling as a Visa Holder

Visa holders have different restrictions than a green card holder or even a person who is undocumented. When you come to the US you are inspected at the border. Even with a visa, CBP can refuse to let you enter.  

You may be turned away if you enter too often and stay for long periods. So if someone comes in for 3-6 months and only leaves for a month, and does this several times, they may think you are trying to stay here permanently and/or you are working here so we have seen them stopping people and turning them away at the border AND taking their visa away. 

Of course, if you were carrying anything illegal, they would probably arrest you and not allow entry. 

What documents do you need to bring while traveling?

Most forms of travel will require a valid ID (this can be your foreign passport). 

If you plan on driving, depending on the state you are driving through, you may need an International Driving Permit (IDP) and a valid driver’s license from your home country. 

You cannot get an IDP in the US so you must obtain that before coming here. Usually, if you want to rent a car you will need your license and IDP as well as insurance. 

If you are traveling in the US we recommend that you make a copy of your passport’s biographic page, US Visa, and admission stamp or I-94 admission number. Then, if you lose any of them you will have a copy which may make it easier to get them replaced. 

You must have a passport that is valid for six months beyond the period of your intended stay (usually this means 9 months – presuming a 90-day stay plus 6 months). If it is going to expire before that time, we recommend replacing it before you travel.

Visa concerns

What if you’re still waiting for your visa?

If you have been waiting for a visa since March 2020 (when the Department of State suspended visa services), unfortunately, the state department has no additional information about when this will resume. Much of the delay is because it is dependent on the consulates and embassies outside the US and they each are opening based on their individual circumstances.

What if your nonimmigrant visa expires while in the US?

Nonimmigrant visas can sometimes be extended with Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. Usually, visas are good for several years BUT the validity of your visa isn’t what you reference to determine if you are here legally. 

When you enter the US a stamp is put in your passport or entered into the system by CBP that says you are allowed to stay until a certain date. You must abide by that date. 

Sometimes instead of a date, it will say D/S which means Duration of Status. You can stay in the US up to the date or through your D/S. You can sometimes get an extension of this date, but it takes several months to process (probably even longer now with COVID), and overstaying your authorized period may impact your reentry into the US. 

What about if you can’t see your fiancé within two years of your interview because of COVID? 

This was also discussed in detail in another video, which you can watch here so you’re fully informed. In brief, there are exceptions for religious or cultural reasons for not meeting within the two-year period. As far as we are aware there have not yet been any exceptions granted for not being able to see each other due to COVID. 

The law says you must meet within two years of the application so if you applied and the application process has taken longer than expected you should be okay, but it’s not a guarantee.

How do you get a new visa?

President Trump signed a Proclamation on April 22 which has been extended through December 31, 2020. That proclamation said that no immigrant visas will be issued by the Department of State with a few exceptions, which include lawful permanent residents; immigrants seeking to enter as healthcare professionals; spouses, children, and prospective adoptive children of U.S. citizens; and certain Special Immigrant Visa applicants.

Under COVID all routine immigrant visa appointments have been canceled. If regular operations resume the only people who will be scheduled for an appointment must fall under one of the exemptions. 

Keep in mind that another Presidential proclamation (9996) limits travel to the US from specific countries including the Schengen area (26 European countries). If you are issued a visa and are coming from one of these areas, you must fall under an exempted category to be able to travel to the US. 

So what if my fiancé visa expires because of the restrictions? 

Fiancé visas cannot be extended. But if you can’t travel during the validity period due to circumstances beyond your control, you can request a visa reissuance. You will need to contact the consulate that issued the visa to do that. You might have to have another medical exam and pay another visa fee so keep that in mind. 

What Do You Do When You Enter the US?

Besides a valid visa and passport, as already mentioned, if you are arriving by air or sea you must have a ticket that is valid for one year from your date of entry out of the country. 

If you are arriving by land you must prove you have financial solvency as well as a permanent residence to return to. You must be admissible. Do not work while you are in the US unless you have a valid EAD Follow all the laws. 

What To Do When You Encounter the Police

All of the following will apply whether you’re stopped in a car, a bus, or a train:

You do have to tell your correct name. Some states require you to show an ID if asked. If you refuse, know that you may be detained.

You can refuse to answer any questions and refuse to be searched but that does not mean you will stop it from happening.

You do NOT need to give them information that they don’t ask. Do NOT lie to the police. Do not say anything that is blatantly untrue. But, you don’t need to tell them you don’t have legal papers. Use your right to remain silent.

If you are arrested by the police, you have the right to an attorney. Ask for one before talking to the police. Do not sign any documents that the police give you before your attorney reviews them.  When you meet with your attorney ask them if they have experience with immigration matters or if they can consult with an attorney who does. Any criminal proceedings against you can impact your immigration goals so it’s important to make sure you’re protecting those.

Resources for when you encounter police or ICE

If you are stopped by the police or immigration and customs enforcement, it may be difficult for you to remember all your rights and all you must do. The following resources will help you in these situations. 

One is our Red Card. It tells you what to do if you are stopped by the police or ICE. To get one, call us at 732-876-9355 or email us at [email protected]  If you’d like a copy, please comment below and we’ll get your information so we can send one to you free of charge. 

The other is an app we read about called migracam. We have not tried this app,but you can check it out here.

From what we have read, it allows you to set an emergency list of contacts, that if you are stopped by ICE you can verbally tell your phone and it will send a message to these contacts and will start live streaming the event to them via your phone. It will also send them a text with your location. It is created, licensed, and managed by the ACLU of Texas

What Should You Do During Removal Proceedings?

If you are not in custody, you can travel even if you are in removal proceedings. 

You will need to show your Notice to Appear (Form I-862) and your foreign ID. When you have a Form I-862 it means you have already been interviewed by immigration officials so it is unlikely they would detain you. 

If you are stopped by the authorities or worse, detained or arrested you want to make it as easy as possible for your family to get you the help you need. Memorize important phone numbers. Have all necessary papers (such as birth certificate, proof of residence, etc) together in a place they can access. 

You may want to think about adding another person to your bank account in case they need to access your money for you. Only do this with someone you absolutely trust. Also, if you are in a relationship or married, you need to make sure your partner is on your lease, utility bills, and other important accounts so they can take care of them if you remain in custody or are, worse, deported. 

Police are not supposed to listen to phone calls between someone who is arrested and their attorney. They can and often do listen to phone calls they make to other people. Do not share information you want to keep private in any phone calls while in police or ICE custody. 

If you made it this far, congratulations! You are now well equipped to keep yourself safe while traveling to and from the US. As mentioned above, the best way to avoid trouble while traveling is to become a citizen. Even if you’re not a citizen, it is much better to have legal status than to remain undocumented. 

We want everyone to have legal status. We are here to help you get that. We have been able to help people who didn’t think they were eligible to get one. But we can’t help you if you don’t call us. Contact us today through Andres Mejer Law or call us at 888-421-9942.