TSA checking passengers’ immigration status for domestic flights

By Michael J. Gurfinkel, Esq. – Recently, a Filipina came to my office after she was “caught” by the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) on a domestic flight from Newark, NJ to Chicago, IL. She was going through security on this domestic flight when a TSA officer asked her for her photo id and boarding pass. She showed her current, unexpired Philippine passport, and the TSA officer started going through the pages of the passport and then asked, “Where’s your visa?” She replied that it was in her old passport, which she had left at home. The TSA officer then proceeded to tell her that he would call Customs and Border Protection (CBP) because he needed to verify her immigration status.

About 40 minutes later, CBP officers arrived, began questioning her, and determined that she was out of status (TNT). They handcuffed her, and took her over to “secondary” for further questioning. Ultimately, she was issued a Notice to Appear (NTA), placing her in removal/deportation for having overstayed her “visit” by several years.

This is certainly a new development, in that for years, people felt secure in traveling within the U.S., as it typically does not involve a person having to be “inspected” by immigration officials. However, it seems that now the TSA is not only checking our baggage for dangerous items, but is also checking and verifying people’s immigration status on domestic flights.

In fact, on the TSA’s website, they announce that the TSA has now “assumed travel document checking responsibilities from airline contractors”. (In the past, private companies would be checking people’s identification and boarding passes, but now TSA has taken over that duty).

The TSA states that it will check if passengers’ boarding passes and identification are valid and in proper order. TSA notes that it has “found thousands of suspect, illegible or expired documents, including passports, visas, and driver’s licenses”. TSA further notes that “individuals with fraudulent or suspect documents are now being referred to law enforcement for closer scrutiny and investigation instead of proceeding to the boarding gate.”

Among the TSAs “success stories” is that a TSA officer had become suspicious of a passenger because the “passenger’s visa had expired”. That passenger was interviewed by law enforcement officers, as well as officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Boarder Protections (CBP), and the passenger was taken into custody.

In another case, a Colorado passenger presented a passport that was altered. “Further investigation indicated that the passenger was in the country illegally and wanted by authorities after failing to appear for a court hearing on his immigration status”. (Perhaps the alien had an outstanding “in absentia” deportation order when he failed to show up for a hearing). Another passenger from Georgia “was arrested after presenting a TSA document checker with a U.S. permanent resident card (green card) that had someone else’s picture on it. In other cases, people presented bogus green cards and TSA officials turned them over to ICE.

In addition, I called the TSA, and they confirmed that TSA document checkers are asking people who present foreign passports to show an unexpired visa, showing that they are still in the US “legally”.

Therefore, it can no longer be said that it is 100% “safe” for TNT’s to travel within the U.S. That is why it is all more important that if you are out of status, that you seek the advice of a reputable attorney who can perhaps find legitimate ways for you to legalize your status.

Find more like this: Immigration


  1. […] security on this domestic flight when a TSA officer asked her for her photo id and boarding pass. (more…) Philippines News : Read the rest of this article […]

  2. kawnipi says:

    The better way is just to fly without ID completely. There is no requirement to show ID to fly–the supreme court revealed several years ago that there is a “secret rule” that says you can fly without ID if you are subject to an additional security screening. You can read more about it at: http://flywithoutid.blogspot.com/

  3. Hello. Great job. I did not imagine this. This is a impressive story. Thanks!

  4. max says:

    this is just outrageous ,i fell like i live not in a free country but in a police state, and control is every were ! Abraham Lincoln says that if you give up freedom for security you lose them both

  5. send them a Thank You card. Let them know how essential they are to you and that it doesn’t have to be a holiday to get a card from you. In the act of writing Thank You cards, you are deflecting the unfavorable out of your thoughts and filling mind with the constructive. And most importantly, you are taking action

  6. Hi, i think that i saw you visited my site thus i came to “return the favor”.I am trying to find things to improve my website!I suppose its ok to use a few of your ideas!!

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