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

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

   

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27 Comments

  1. We were in a very similar situation and location today. I provided my state issued driver’s license and soft copy of I 797 on my phone. The officer was able to look me up in less than 10 minutes but when he returned the license, he mentioned that they have added a note to my CBP record for not carrying the original documents and next time this would lead to deportation!
    I’ll consult with my company attorney but thought I’ll ask here in the meantime, does this ‘note’ impact any upcoming immigration activities like i140 petition, next CBP interaction at an actual port of entry? Response much appreciated.

    Reply
    • Abhya,
      In-general, it should not impact. As long as you carry all your documents, you are fine. You just need to be careful, when you travel close to borders and carry all documents to be safe. Discuss with attorney in any case to be clear on this. Do share your update here for community benefit.

      Reply
  2. My boyfriend and I were planning on traveling to Port Isabel for the weekend, he is a permanent resident, his card expired and his current renewal is processing. Is it safe for him to travel through the checkpoint if he brings all the documents and proof that he is trying to renew? Please help!

    Reply
    • It is a very risky move to travel when something is pending. When you are at checkpoint, they will not have access to all the documents and current status…so, I suggest you wait for the renewal to be complete and then only travel to avoid any complications.

      Reply
  3. Hi,

    I got married with US citizen and applied greencard. My status is processing. If I go through checkpoint like this, is there any risks for me even I showed CBP my USCIS application confirmation code?
    Thanks.
    Loan Ngo

    Reply
    • There is a possibility that you will be asked to provide all documentation. As long as you have all the documents and proof, you should be fine…

      Reply
  4. please can you guys help me out, i m going for visa at Laredo border, not sure of the travel ways over the bridge across the border and transportation to consulate of us as i am going for the h1b stamping, it would be helpful if some one would posts their experiences and i would like to speak to you personally if possible

    Reply
    • We have no experiences so far. As you are going for stamping anyways, should be fine. Please share your update for community benefit after your stamping.

      Reply
    • I’m sharing my experience in Arizona. But assuming same in Texas (Laredo). I parked my car on the US side of the border. Just walked across the border. There are clear signs. There’s no one at Mexico side to stop and check anything. There are taxis on the Mexico side. I paid $5 for about 5-10 mile trip to hotel. On the way back, CBP checksed my visa and issued a paper based I-94. I was escorted to an adjacent building, where they did the processing. No questions asked. I think I paid another $7 at processing center.

      Reply
  5. I have searched high and low for a law that requires nonimmigrants to carry documentation of their immigration status, and I have found nothing. I suspect that the CBP officer is wrong about that, if not actually lying.

    Reply
    • You’re correct. There’s no such law. And you really don’t want to say that to a law enforcement officer. But it is up to law enforcement officer to do everything possible to check your status. Carrying documents or pulling out on your phone will make things easier

      Reply
  6. 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
    • 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
      • 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
    • Hi Salvo. Heard the exact same thing from border patrol (10 years later!). Please share if you were able to get any information from the attorney on this.

      Reply
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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
    • 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
  10. 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
    • 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
  11. 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
    • 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, 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

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