If you are amongst one of the 11-million plus immigrants living in the United States without legal status, then you should know that attempting to leave the United States through any of its national airports might trigger a stop by an airport security official (TSA) who contacts and refers you to Customs and Border Protection (CBP). How does the stop occur and why?
Think of the following scenario: You entered the United States without inspection through one of the several states that border Mexico, such as California, Texas or Arizona. You have an emergency with a parent or child in your home country; let’s say Mexico as an example. You need to immediately return to Mexico. You decide to purchase an airline ticket flying out of Newark International Airport. When you get to the airport, you check in with the airline and make your way to airport security (TSA). There is no way to avoid the security process. You wait on line until a TSA security official says “next”. You must show him your airline ticket and your identification. Because you are traveling on an international flight, you must present your passport. The TSA security official will inspect your passport searching for some proof of your legal status or lawful presence in the United States. If he doesn’t find an unexpired tourist visa data page or a stamp in your passport indicating you are a Lawful Permanent Resident, he may inquire as to your proof of legal status in the United States.
When you cannot present the TSA security officer with proof of legal status in the United States, he will ask you to wait on the side while he contacts CBP in Terminal C. At this point, your deportation from the United States begins. For many, it is their worst nightmare. Having been so careful for five, ten or more years without attracting the attention of any law enforcement officers, or committing any criminal offenses, this one unintentional mistake causes an administrative order of removal by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) barring you from the United States for ten years.
Once a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer arrives at the security area where you are told to wait, you are taken to a private room to be interrogated. Your answers to the questions you are asked may lead to one of three results: One, you may be allowed to leave the United States as long as you sign for your self deportation barring you from returning to the United States for ten years; Two, you may be detained and held in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for an extended period of time, lasting several weeks until you are able to appear in front of an Immigration Judge regarding your release from detention by paying a bond of $5,000 or more; Three, you may be served with a Notice to Appear before the Immigration Court in Newark, New Jersey and released on an Order of Supervision where you will have to report to ICE at Newark, New Jersey while your case is pending with the Immigration Court. You may very well succeed to have your case approved based on some form of relief from deportation filed on your behalf by an attorney representative.
Finally, if you have left the United States in the last ten years by air without any issues at the airport, do not expect that you will not have any problems if you leave now. You were very lucky then and a lot has changed due to the increase of border enforcement by the United States federal government. All 50 states are enforcing some type of airport security with immigration consequences for those who are in violation of the federal immigration laws.
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