What You Need to Know About Traveling Within the US as an Immigrant


As the country continues to get vaccinated and as certain things begin to “open up” there is more of an interest in travel among many of our clients. 

Whether or not you are safe to travel within the United States and how you travel depends entirely on your unique immigration situation. There are a few situations in which certain travel decisions are extremely risky.

Note that if you have a valid visa of any kind, or a green card, you should be safe to travel within the United States if you want to. The only way you may jeopardize your immigration case is if you choose to leave the United States. Just make sure you carry appropriate documentation with you at all times, meaning you’re carrying your passport, your ID, and your stamped visa with you at all times. 

You’re filing for an extension on your visitor’s visa.

If you’re waiting on an approval for your visitor’s visa extension you’re in a fairly precarious position.

Of course, it’s easy to get frustrated with the extension process. They take a long time, it’s impossible to know whether or when they will be approved, and the delays can certainly make it difficult to plan. Nevertheless, many extensions are being denied, and if you are caught on a visitor’s visa that has expired it may not matter that you applied for an extension and are waiting for approval. Immigration agents may still initiate the removal process. 

You’re undocumented or have overstayed your visa.

Travel can be extremely risky for you, because you don’t have legal status. In many cases you will be inviting Homeland Security to discover this fact and respond to it.

How to Minimize Risks

What if you absolutely must travel, due to an emergency, for the purposes of obtaining work, or for some other reason that makes remaining in your current location anything but an option?

Primarily, what you’re going to want to do is avoid the airport. Driving, if you have a valid license, is usually pretty safe. The moment you go to the airport, however, you’re interacting with TSA agents, who will definitely discover your status issues. 

You also are going to want to avoid travel by Greyhound bus. Many people don’t realize this, but along the border especially ICE agents often stop Greyhounds and board them. They begin checking the paperwork of everyone on board the bus and will take people into custody if they find they do not have legal status within the United States of America. The same is true for Amtrak trains

Note that these checks can happen anywhere. While they are more common at the border they could just as easily take place here in Pennsylvania, in the heart of the midwest. At some bus stations they happen up to three times a day. Immigration law as currently written give agents the ability to search vehicles without a warrant within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States. That includes a large chunk of this state.

While these spot checks have certainly been criticized for being unconstitutional they nevertheless do continue to take place. 

Travel via a private vehicle is always going to be your best bet. If possible, you want to avoid driving the car yourself. Instead, try to travel with a citizen who has their own driver’s license. If stopped, passengers of a private vehicle do not have to provide any identification under the current law.

Need help? Contact us today.

The Law Office of Renee Hykel helps with many immigration issues and can answer questions as needed. 

See also:

What Are Your Options When You’re Undocumented?

5 Steps to a Smoother Immigration Process

What Are Your Rights if ICE Agents Are At the Door? 


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