Q. Can asylees travel to their home country? I just want to travel to an airport, pick up my pets that a friend will bring there, and return to the United States.
A. You should be able to travel home and return without a problem.
Sometimes at a green card or naturalization interview, an officer questions an asylee who has traveled home about their asylum claim. For that reason, some attorneys advise asylees to not return home until they get U.S. citizenship.
My view is different. My advice depends on the basis for the asylee’s asylum claim. If you claimed that you would be arrested and imprisoned for your beliefs or actions, then traveling home undermines that claim. However, if your claim was that you faced or feared persecution for your beliefs but could move about society, then traveling home for a short visit is fine.
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To be sure travel won’t jeopardize your status, speak to an immigration law expert. Also, before you travel, get a refugee travel document by filing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services form I-131, Application for Travel Document. You can get the form and filing instructions at uscis.gov.
Q. I came here from Mexico on a visitor’s visa but overstayed. Can I use my Mexican passport as identification to board a plane to travel within the United States? My mother is a permanent resident and I hope to eventually get a green card.
A. You can use your Mexican passport to board a plane to travel within the United States. Generally, Transportation Security Administration officers who check the papers of air travelers typically do not ask about immigration status. So, travel by plane within the 50 U.S. states is generally safe for undocumented immigrants.
But avoid Puerto Rico. I’ve seen Customs and Border Protection officers at airports there looking for undocumented immigrants.
The way an undocumented immigrant might be discovered on a plane is if an incident leads to interviews with all passengers. That’s such a rare occurrence that I’ve never heard of an undocumented person getting caught that way. In the unlikely case this might happen to you, unless you have a criminal record, I doubt the authorities would detain you.
Allan Wernick is an attorney and director of the City University of New York’s Citizenship Now! project. Email questions and comments to [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @awernick.