By Atty. James G. Beirne

Port of entry inspections

IMAGINE yourself as an individual traveling for the first time to the United States. You are so excited you can hardly sleep. An hour or so before arriving in your destination, the flight attendant hands you two forms to fill up – one for immigration and one for Customs. Suddenly, the excitement is replaced by anxiety and then fear. What if I am not allowed into the U.S.? What if they ask me why I’m traveling to the U.S.? So many what if’s come to your mind.
It would help to know what to expect once you arrive at what is known as a Port of Entry (POE). A port of entry can either be an airport, a seaport, or a land border crossing.
The anxiety becomes greater as the plane approaches its destination, mostly because of lack of knowledge of what to expect during immigration and customs inspections. But always remember that as long as your papers are in order, and you are truthful about your declarations, there is no need to worry.
When you go through a POE inspection, it means that you are seeking permission from an Immigration Inspector, who is an official of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), to enter the U.S. for a specific reason and duration. All foreign nationals arriving at these POE stations go through four different inspections: public health, immigration, customs, and agriculture.
An hour or so before the plane arrives in the U.S., flight attendants will give all non-U.S. citizens two forms to complete. The forms will either be Form I-94 (white), which is an Arrival/Departure Record; or Form I-94W (green), which is a Non-Immigrant Visa Waiver Arrival/Departure Record; and Customs Declaration Form 6059B. The forms ask for basic identification information and address where you will stay in the U.S.
At the airport, you will be prompted to the inspection area, where you will speak with a CBP officer. If you are a U.S. citizen, special lines may be available to you. There are separate lines for non-U.S. citizens. If you are a U.S. citizen, the officer will ask for your passport and Customs Declaration form, verify your citizenship, and welcome you back to the United States. You will then proceed to the Customs inspection area.
Although CBP inspectors have to make a determination as fast as they can so as not to impede international travel and commerce, they also have make sure not to allow entry to possible terrorists and people coming for fraudulent purposes. For this reason, most airports have so-called primary and secondary inspections.
All arriving passengers go through primary inspection. During the primary inspection, inspectors, often no more than a minute, to check that a person’s papers are in order. If you are allowed to proceed, the officer will stamp your passport and customs declaration form and issue a completed Form I-94 to you. The form I-94 will show what immigration classification you were given and how long you are allowed to stay.
If the inspector has reason to believe that more thorough questioning or examination of documents is needed, the person is referred to secondary inspection. The inspectors in secondary inspection can take the time to conduct a detailed interview, without keeping a whole line of exhausted passengers waiting.
Some airports have two separate secondary inspection areas, known as “hard secondary” and “soft secondary.” Persons who may have serious problems, such as those whose names appear on a computerized “lookout list” because of national security or law enforcement concerns, or those who do not carry appropriate documents, would be questioned in hard secondary. People who may be legitimate travelers but who have to be referred to secondary because their cases take a longer time to process would go to soft secondary. A new immigrant family, for example, is often referred to a soft secondary inspection, because there are documents to check and additional forms to complete.
CBP inspectors review passports, visas, and other supporting documents of each and every foreign national arriving at a U.S. POE. The CBP officers also compare fingerprint records and name check databases for recent derogatory information, and ask questions about the foreign nationals general qualifications for the visas they have, review the Form I-94 Arrival and Departure Record (or, for Visa Waiver travelers, Form I-94W).
You will be asked questions to determine the true intent of your trip to the U.S. CBP officers are trained to determine if a foreign national has a pre-conceived intent behind their trip to the U.S. For example, they are looking to see if you are actually coming to attend school or for a job interview when you say you are coming to visit Disneyland. If an officer is not convinced with your initial statements, they may ask for additional supporting documentation before allowing you to enter the U.S.
If the inspector decided that you should not be permitted to enter the United States, you will either be detained, or temporarily held until return flight arrangements can be made. The inspector may also cancel your visa. If the inspector is unable to decide at once if you should be allowed into the U.S., your inspection may be deferred, and you will be instructed to go to another office located near your intended destination in the U.S. for further processing.
If, for whatever reason, you are not allowed to enter the U.S., the inspectors will try to help you as much as he can. Some inspectors may go out of his way or ask an airline representative to notify persons who may be waiting to meet you. When possible, you will even be allowed to make a telephone call. Some POEs may even provide a place where you can speak privately with the people who came to meet you.
It’s important that your immigration or travel papers are in order before even making that booking for a flight to the United States. If you have any problem with your immigration needs, we can help you obtain the needed visas and other documents, and help you prepare for those port of entry inspections.
Call today and schedule a free consultation. We have three convenient offices to serve you: Glendale (818) 552-4500; Cerritos (562) 865-4480; and West Covina (626) 262-4446; and Valencia (661) 200-0644.
An active member of the State Bar of California and the State Bar of Nevada, James G. Beirne is also a member of the highly respected American Immigration Lawyers Association and Los Angeles County Bar Association Immigration Section. He is admitted to practice before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, all federal district courts in California and Nevada, California state courts, and Nevada state courts. Mr. Beirne has represented clients in numerous immigration cases. His offices are located at 520 E. Wilson Ave., Suite 110, Glendale, CA 91206, and 17215 Studebaker Rd., Suite 380, Cerritos, CA 90703, with telephone numbers (818) 552-4500; (562) 865-4480; and (866) 903-4522. He also has offices at 2640 E. Garvey Ave., Suite 104, West Covina 91791, with tel. no. (626) 262-4446. His newest offices are at Valencia Executive Plaza, Suite 200-E, 27201 Tourney Rd., Valencia, CA 91355 with tel. no. 661-200-0644.
(Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. Results may vary depending on the facts of a particular case. We make no prediction, warranty or guarantee about the results of any case, nor do we assume any legal liability for the completeness of any information and its impact on the results of any case. Each case is different and results depend on the facts of each case. Consult with and retain counsel of your own choice if you need legal advice.) â–