Noncitizens Must Have Documents Verifying Their Status At All Times
Since the events of September 11, 2001, we have heard of reported incidents of many nonimmigrant foreign nationals and even lawful permanent residents of the United States encountering difficulties when boarding domestic flights. They have been questioned and asked to present documentation establishing their status in the country. One client reported that he felt secure only if he carried a copy of the entire visa petition that was filed on his behalf, which has yet to be approved by the INS. There have even been incidents of individuals questioned at their workplace and requested to provide evidence of their legal status in the country. These individuals appear to have been singled out based on what one can only presume to be their "foreign" names or appearance. Individuals are being threatened with deportation for failure to carry immigration-related documentation, as well as a passport, on their person. The inconsistencies in what people are being told make it necessary to lay out the applicable sections of the law that form the basis of such queries.
There is a little-known provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA") that states, "every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times carry with him and have in his possession any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him . . . Any alien who fails to comply with the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall upon conviction for each offense be fined not to exceed $100 or be imprisoned not more than thirty days, or both." INA § 264(e).
Section 264.1 of 8 Code of Federal Regulations, implementing INA §264, delineates what constitutes a registration document for different classes of individuals, including nonimmigrants.
Pursuant to 8 C.F.R. § 264.1(a), the following forms are prescribed as registration forms:
Form No. and Class:
Form No. and Class:
Section 265 of the INA, in turn, states "Each alien required to be registered under this title who is within the United States shall notify the Attorney General in writing of each change of address and new address within ten days from the date of such change and furnish with such notice such additional information as the Attorney General may require by regulation." INA § 265(a). Subsection (b) states that the "Attorney General may in his discretion, upon ten days notice, require the natives of any one or more foreign states, or any class or group thereof, who are within the United States and who are required to be registered under this title, to notify the Attorney General of their current addresses and furnish such additional information as the Attorney General may require."
Although INA § 237 renders the failure to comply with the above-mentioned provisions a deportable offense, it is silent as to violations of INA § 264. Therefore, it is not clear whether the failure to carry evidence of registration is, strictly speaking, a deportable offense.
The provision in the INA that requires that all non-U.S. citizens carry evidence of registration and status has generally not been enforced. However, in wake of the events of September 11, and in light of the current atmosphere in the country, foreign nationals have come under increasing scrutiny. Therefore, we advise all foreign nationals, whether on nonimmigrant visas or lawful permanent residents, to carry documentation at all times, and especially when traveling.
About The Author
Cyrus D. Mehta, a graduate from Cambridge University and Columbia Law School, practices immigration law in New York City. He is a trustee of the American Immigration Law Foundation and recipient of the 1997 Joseph Minsky Young Lawyers Award. He is also Chair of the Immigration & Nationality Committee of the Association of the City Bar of New York. He frequently lectures on various immigration subjects at legal seminars, workshops and universities and may be contacted at 212-686-1581 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Parastou Hassouri is an associate attorney at the Law Offices of Cyrus D. Mehta. She received her J.D. from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1999. Prior to joining the firm, she served as a Judicial Law Clerk with the Executive Office for Immigration Review, New York City Immigration Court.