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Documenting Lawful Status – What Documents Must I Carry?

15 Jun

Recently, immigrants, nonimmigrants, and even U.S. citizens find themselves asking this question, and wondering what documents to carry daily.

With the rapid changes in immigration law and policies, never before has it been more important to know one’s immigration status, legal rights, and the appropriate documents to carry while traveling into or within the United States. Additionally, with partnerships set up between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and federal agencies and also local and state law enforcement, it is more important than ever to carry proof of one’s lawful status in the United States. Indeed, it has recently become known that the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has been creating “DPS citation lists” since August 2016. These lists contain the names of people cited for driving without a license and for driving while intoxicated. DPS shares these citation lists with ICE, which uses the DPS lists as an indication that someone may lack immigration status, as reported in the Houston Chronicle on June 11, 2018.

The documents one should carry depend on his or her status in the United States, and where the encounter with authorities occurs. Entering into the United States at a Port of Entry, or being within 100 miles of any U.S Border, requires different documentation than remaining exclusively within the interior of the United States.

Temporary nonimmigrants and international visitors who are lawfully present in the United States, such as business visitors, students, H-1B workers, and all other temporary workers, must carry with them, at all times, proof of their authorization to be in the United States. That proof could include their valid I-94 Record, Employment Authorization Document (EAD), or Form I-797 Approval Notice. Nonimmigrants should also carry with them their State issued ID/Driver License.

Drivers, including U.S. citizens, must carry their valid state driver’s license when driving as required by state law. Especially if driving in Texas, drivers should carry their valid state driver’s licenses to help avoid being put on a DPS citation list if stopped by a DPS officer.  Remembering to carry one’s driver’s license would help avoid a ticket for not carrying the license and help avoid inconvenience later or worse, possible detention by law enforcement or ICE, while ICE determines if the driver is authorized to be in the United States. At least one person was stopped in Galveston, Texas for a traffic violation and detained by the Galveston police for more than 72 hours until ICE could verify immigration status. Don’t let this happen to you! Be prepared and carry your appropriate documentation.

If an individual does not possess a valid state driver’s license or proof of being in the United States legally, what should a person do? Individuals who are not legally authorized to be in the United States should have their Embassy contact numbers with them and be ready to present, if requested, documentation showing their identity and that they have been in the United States for at least two years to help avoid expedited removal from the United States without a court hearing. It would also be helpful to have a copy of the documents in a safe place at home or with a trusted family member in case documents are lost or misplaced.

These document requirements may seem daunting, but taking the extra trouble to ensure proper documentation is within reach at all times can help avoid the far greater inconvenience of detention by law enforcement and by ICE for failure to document lawful status. When in doubt contact your Foster immigration attorney for help.