H1B issue at Immigration Checkpoint within US – MUST carry Passport, Visa

by Kumar · 14 comments

I am on vacation right now traveling in New Mexico.  Today I had around couple hours of tense experience while my immigration CBP Immigration Check point within US travel H1Bstatus, H1B info, etc was checked by Border security officers (CBP) at Immigration check point around Las Cruces in state of New Mexico. Let me share you my experience and tell you some key information that was told by CBP officers that is important for all of you to know about carrying Passport and Visa papers all the time.

Situation: Stopped at Immigration Checkpoint for immigration check and held for 2 hrs.

We (myself and few friends) are on a road trip visiting few cities in the state of New Mexico. As part of our trip, we ended up traveling a little close to US border (around 60 miles) on our way in New Mexico State and we did not know there would be any immigration checkpoint within US, which is 60 miles away from the Mexico Border.  As we thought we would be within US, we did not carry visa papers or passport with us and just carried driver’s license with us.  We were stopped at the immigration check point by CBP officers at Las Cruces (around 50 – 60 miles from Mexico border).  First thing they asked was, “ Can you give us your passports and immigration papers indicating your status?”. We said, “we do not have them”. We just gave our Driver’s licenses. The officer took our state issued driver’s licenses and went to check our  immigration status. It took him 40 min to do basic check and then he came back and took me to the CBP office and said, “we are not able to verify your legal status info. We see that your visa is expired”. I was searched before entering the office. They took my finger prints of both hands  and had me sit in the lobby outside for almost 45 minutes. I explained that, my H1B visa expired recently and  I got my  H1B visa extension few months ago. I could see around six people in CBP office trying to verify my visa info. Some trying to search in computer, some trying to call other offices and others helping with fax. The situation seemed to be very tense and they were very serious checking my immigration information. They asked my info like SSN, Full names of parents and some other basic information.  I was just sitting outside watching the CBP officers do all their work seriously through the glass window, it was not good. No one was smiling. Finally after all the drama, they could verify my proper legal status information.

What was the problem with my H1B visa update and Immigration info  ?

The reason for all this drama and tense situation was because, they were not able to verify my proper current legal status and had old information in their system indicating that my visa was expired. We think that all systems of USCIS and CBP are connected and integrated, but seems they are not.  USCIS approved my extension few months ago and gave me new I-94 along with I797 indicating my proper H1B status, but that information was not updated in the CBP or US border protection office systems (I do not even know if they are connected. seems, there is a disconnect). They had to call many a times and do multiple things to verify my immigration information. I gave them the H1B approval notice number starting with EAC, but they could not get much out of it.  They were asking for my ‘A’ number or Alien registration number and I did not had it. Finally, they were able to verify my information.

What did  US CBP officer advise after this intense check at Border ?

The CBP officer just told me, “ if you are not US Citizen or permanent resident, legally YOU HAVE to carry your Passport, I-94 and current Immigration Status document (like I-797 for H1B), whenever you are  traveling out of your current resident state.” I told him that I never had this problem and never carried these documents before. He just said, “ it is law and you are supposed to carry these documents all the time if you are traveling anywhere within US too and not just out of country”. I told him that I am not aware of this except that in Arizona it is required with new law.  He was nice and just warned us to carry it next time.

Summary

Overall, my assumption that you do not need to carry passport, I-94 and Immigration document if you are traveling within US was wrong and I experienced some tense situation.  Also, the immigration and USCIS systems seems not as interconnected as we think, so we have to be careful and carry all the papers.  You could be in much complicated situation like me if you had H1B expired and got extension, so just avoid this by carrying all the necessary documents if you are traveling out of your current state (especially border states).

Image Credit : http://www.parsons.com/SiteCollectionImages/content/p-cbp-border-crossing.jpg

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Salvo August 10, 2011 at 10:29 pm

I had a similar experience, but the information they gave me was slighty different. They stop me at the Yuma checkpoint and I had only my driver license. I live in Texas and I didn’t bring with me my passport and my H1-B visa extension. They guy that stopped me told me that I was risking to be arrested for three days and deported for 5 years. He told me I need to bring my documents with me ANY PLACE I GO, and this means not only out of state. He said that at the time I obtained the Visa I signed an agreement with the US which force me to carry with me my documents anywhere, so I guess this means I need to bring my passport and Visa extension even when I go to the grocery store (???) . I wrote my lawyer to have a better understanding about this law

Reply

sdgman October 25, 2012 at 9:51 pm

If you are a non-citizen living within the United States you ARE required to carry documentation with you at all times. That should have been explained to you when you received your Visa. As this situation is rare, it’s easy to become lazy and stop doing it. It is your own fault if you do.

Reply

yezdi October 21, 2014 at 2:59 pm

That is stupid, this means I go out to buy milk and have to carry all my documents and actually taking risk of loosing all my documents, what a great thought Mr. Stupid

Reply

Daniel Munoz April 28, 2011 at 9:42 pm

I lost my permenent Resident card and two weeks ago went for my picture and finger prints in El Paso.They sid to expect my card in 2 – 6 months.I need to go to Albuquerque and dont have my card.How can I do it to cross the Las Cruces checkpoint?Thank you.

Reply

Satish August 23, 2010 at 10:48 am

Hi Kumar,

Thanks for keeping us posted with the latest developments, I work in ATL and my H1 is expiring soon(I applied for extension no news yet) , I was thinking to go to Mexico/Canada for Visa stamping . Is this channel still available or do i need to go to India for it, give me your best suggestion. What is the process if i want to go to Mex/Can …please advise

Reply

Kumar August 24, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Satish, As you are going for extension you must be fine. Either places are fine.
Read these two articles for some insights : 1. First time visa stamping, Change of Status – US or Canada
2. Visa stamping in Canda – Stuck for 21 days

Honestly, if you read my friends experience of Canada in 2 above, you will get an idea that they asked for lot of documents….thats an extreme case, but advantage is, he could communicate well with employer and get all done as in same time zone and stuff…. Couple of my friends recently got stamping in India, they said it went all cool… There are pros and cons for both, you just have to pick a choice.

Reply

Deshi August 15, 2010 at 12:30 pm

By Law, all non-immigrants are required to carry some identifying docs as proof of their valid lawful status. We live in Post 9-11 world and I am sure other states will follow AZ law soon . Give it 10-15 years and your local police will be checking lawful status of brown or asian people with thick accent during traffic stops or inquiry. GC holders are required by law to carry their GC at all times with them ( though very few ppl follow that out of fear of losing wallet ( or if they get robbed ) . I am one of them. I always carry a photocopy of GC in my wallet ). since its a hassle to order replacement GC from USCIS in case if you lose it.

Reply

Kumar August 15, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Yup, I agree with you we are in Post 9-11 world and we might as well see your speculations in future…never know…Good idea to carry a photocopy of your status info all the time.

Reply

Laura July 16, 2010 at 10:15 am

I am a US citizen and am in the process of trying to get a birth certificate. My birth was never recorded so am having a bit of a problem. Question. Can I use just my drivers licence and SS ID to pass through and back at the checkpoint in Las Cruses and perhaps Tucson.

Thank you

Laura Lindskog

Reply

Kumar July 16, 2010 at 10:38 am

Laura, when I had the issue, they were only stopping internationals. If someone were to say, they were US citizens, they did not even stop them. If you have passport, the best thing to avoid any issues would be to carry your US Passport. Either case, I think you will be fine as long as your US immigration records have recorded your status as US Citizen.

Reply

Satya June 7, 2010 at 5:03 pm

So Kumar, you did not have your passport and docs w/ you and then you gave them the EAC number..? Do you have it memorized..? or just a bit of masala to your story..?
I wish there was a way to verify these “stories”.

Reply

Kumar June 7, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Satya, No stories with CBP officials :) I told them that I had the scan copy of my receipt in my email and I want to use my phone. Fortunately, my iPhone and ability to check email on it saved me ! Stories to CBP officials will get you in more trouble :)

Reply

Vijay June 1, 2010 at 11:35 am

I was not aware that we have to carry all immigration docs with us all the time. When did this happen?

Reply

Guest Author June 1, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Vijay, This happened just couple days back. May 30th to be precise. I was also surprised to know from CBP officer that legally we have to carry the documents if we leave the state we reside in.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Comments only, No Questions. We have a NEW Q & A Section.
Please ask your questions at Redbus2US Q & A Section
Please do NOT post questions here. Ask in Q & A Section
We have a NEW H1B Visa Tracker.
Please add your H1B Case info at H1B Visa Tracker!