All people arriving at the U.S. Border or a Port of Entry (POE) have some basic rights. Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs), also known as green card holders, enjoy greater rights than non-immigrants when returning to the United States after travel abroad. Like all international travelers, LPRs are subject to inspection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) when arriving back in the United States either by air, land or sea. As an LPR, CBP will screen you to determine whether you are a “returning resident” or an “arriving alien.”
If CBP claims it is unable to admit you upon returning to the U.S., you may be taken to a separate area for “secondary inspection.” If you are sent to secondary inspection, you can expect to be detained anywhere from a few minutes to several hours or longer. During the secondary inspection process, a CBP officer will ask you questions and may collect biographic and biometric data, conduct background checks, and conduct other investigation to determine whether you should be admitted to the United States.
If you are detained by CBP in secondary inspection, you have the following rights:
- You have the right to contact your Embassy for assistance. The Embassy can help you contact a lawyer or your family;
- If you have a lawyer, you should ask CBP for permission to contact your lawyer. Please be advised however, that CBP may tell you that you do not have the right to contact an attorney;
- You have the right to review all written statements that are prepared for you, in a language that you can understand;
- If you do not agree with the contents of any written statements or documents that are presented to you, you may refuse to sign them.
You DO NOT have privacy rights that protect you from CBP accessing your mobile phone, computer, tablet, or other electronic devices. A CBP officer may search your device and access your email and screen your social media activity during the inspection process. Your phone, laptop, or other digital device may be held and returned to you later.
If CBP determines that you are a “returning resident,” you should be processed quickly and admitted to the U.S. However, if CBP determines you to be an “arriving alien,” it means that any of the following may have occurred:
- CBP has determined that you have abandoned or relinquished your LPR status;
- You have been absent from the U.S. for a continuous period of more than 180 days:
- You have engaged in illegal activity after departing the U.S.;
- You have departed the U.S. while in removal proceedings or extradition proceedings;
- You have committed certain criminal offenses unless you were granted an immigration waiver;
- You are attempting to enter without a proper visa (for example, as an LPR you are trying to enter with an expired Form I-551 “green card”; or
- You are attempting to enter without inspection.
Right to a Hearing before an Immigration Judge. An LPR who is deemed to be an “arriving alien,” may be charged as removable from the United States. LPRs that are charged as removable have the right to request a hearing before an immigration judge.
Abandonment of Residence/LPR Status. A CBP officer may attempt to convince you that you abandoned your residence because of your absence from the United States or for other reasons and may urge you to sign a Form I-407, Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status. If this occurs, the CBP officer will also attempt to have you returned to your departure destination. Before signing a Form I-407, it is important to know the following:
- You cannot lose your LPR status solely because of time spent abroad;
- An LPR remains an LPR unless the government proves abandonment by clear, unequivocal, and convincing evidence and an order of removal is issued by an immigration judge and becomes final;
- Form I-407 must be signed voluntarily. You may refuse to sign the form and there are no negative consequences if you refuse;
- You cannot be forced to return to your departure destination.
If CBP believes that you abandoned your U.S. residence and you refuse to sign a Form I-407, CBP must issue you a Notice to Appear (NTA) before an immigration judge who will determine if you have abandoned your U.S. residence. CBP cannot make this decision on its own.
If CBP believes that you abandoned your U.S. residence and you sign a Form I-407, you still have the right to request a hearing before an immigration judge.
If CBP takes your permanent resident card (“green card”), you have the right to other evidence of your LPR status, such as a stamp in your passport.
Future Travel. To avoid delays at the ports of entry or legal issues in the future, you should consult with an immigration attorney prior to traveling if you:
- Expect to be out of the U.S. for longer than 6 months;
- Have a criminal record (criminal convictions or a pending criminal charge);
- Have a petition or application pending with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR);
- There is anything in your immigration history that was not disclosed during your immigration process or that might cause a government official to question you about the reason for your travel or about your immigration history.
If you are an LPR and have had delays by CBP at a port of entry, contact us and we can analyze your situation and advise you how you can more safely travel internationally and maintain your permanent resident status.