Deferred inspection is a process used by Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) to finalize the inspection of an arriving foreign national when CBP realizes that there may be a problem or issue with the foreign national returning to the United States. Foreign nationals include both green card holders and those coming to the United States on a nonimmigrant visa, such as a student or H1B visa. Typically the CBP officer will need some evidence, document, or other resource that is not available at the time that the foreign national was seeking entry to the United States.
The most common reason for an officer to issue an order to appear for deferred inspection is when a green card holder travels abroad after having been arrested or convicted of a crime. More often than not, the permanent resident was charged and convicted of a minor crime such as possession of marijuana or shoplifting that did not pose an apparent problem for his green card at the time he was convicted. Unaware that the conviction might cause a problem for his reentry after travel, the permanent resident goes on a short overseas trip for business or leisure. When coming through customs on the way back into the United States, the CBP system indicates that there is a reason that the green card holder’s immigration status might be in jeopardy.
Instead of making a decision on the spot, the CBP officer will give the permanent resident an order to appear at deferred inspection at a later date. At that time, the green card holder must return to the airport and meet with CBP at the deferred inspections office to provide the requested evidence and receive a decision from a CBP officer about his admissibility. The CBP officer could decide to simply admit the green card holder, to continue his parole, issue a notice to appear in immigration court, or to place the green card holder in immigration detention. Usually the CBP officer will not inform you of the possible consequences of the order to appear for deferred inspection when it is issued, instead just informing you of the evidence you are required to produce.
Customs and Border Protection has access to a full manifest list of all passengers who have boarded a flight in a foreign country bound for the United States. CBP also has access to law enforcement records through the use of fingerprints as part of the US-VISIT program. Combining these two sources, CBP will run a background check on those intending to enter the United States at an airport. When a green card holder returns to the United States from travel abroad, CBP will sometimes get a return in their system that indicates that the green card holder’s immigration status is in question. Despite noticing the problem, full information is often not available in the system, and the CBP officer issues an order for the green card holder to appear for deferred inspection. While CBP will search for the evidence, the green card holder is also expected to produce the missing evidence when he appears for deferred inspection.
In the course of issuing an order to appear for deferred inspection, the CBP officer will hold the permanent resident's passport and green card at the port of entry. Temporary evidence will be provided to the green card holder to prove his legal status while waiting to appear as ordered for deferred inspection. The CBP officer will inform the permanent resident of the issue with his inspection and inform him of what he must present to the officer at the date and time set in the order to appear for deferred inspection. Details of the concerns raised at CBP will be transmitted to the deferred inspections office and an investigation will be conducted by the government to obtain any missing evidence it needs to make the determination of whether to admit the green card holder. When the permanent resident arrives at the deferred inspections office pursuant to the order to appear, a CBP officer will be assigned to the case, review all of the evidence, and complete the inspection.
The officer on location will review the paperwork you submitted and typically send it to an offsite location where a more specialized officer will make the decision on how to handle your inspection. The length of this process varies depending on how busy the CBP officers are at the time, but you can expect the process to take two to three hours at the least. It is not uncommon to wait on a decision at the deferred inspections office for four or five hours. Once you give your documentary evidence to the officer you can make a brief explanation of your situation, but the decision on how to handle your order to appear at deferred inspection will be based primarily on the supporting evidence you submit to CBP.
Immigration laws are confusing. The most common reason for being given an order to appear for deferred inspection is because a CBP office believes that you are inadmissible to the United States. It is entirely possible to be safe from deportation if you had stayed in the United States, yet trigger a ground of inadmissibility by traveling that will jeopardize your green card. The most common reason for this is a minor criminal conviction. Some convictions, even something that may seem insignificant, will cause you to be subject to mandatory detention. This means that if detained by CBP you must be held in an immigration detention facility and placed in deportation proceedings. It is vitally important that you are fully informed and prepared for the worst case scenario, and do everything you can to present a favorable case at deferred inspection so that the CBP officer exercises favorable discretion in your case. At the very least, you should consult with an attorney so that you are not blindsided by CBP when you appear on the order for deferred inspection.
While a lawyer will not be able to go into inside the deferred inspections office with you, a lawyer will be able to prepare a package of supporting evidence along with a cover letter explaining your situation and the relief you are seeking in regards to your order to appear for deferred inspection. Typically the CBP officer on hand at the deferred inspections office will communicate with your lawyer in the waiting area as the process unfolds. It is also important that you have a lawyer ready in the worst case scenario to take the appropriate action if you are detained and placed in removal proceedings.