Returning Green Card Holders: How to Handle a Deferred Inspection Appointment

If your green card doesn't work to get you back into the U.S. after foreign travel, you might need to attend a Deferred Inspection appointment.

For most U.S. lawful permanent residents (LPRs), the process of returning to the United States after foreign travel is fairly smooth. They show their green card, have a brief meeting with an officer of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), answer a few questions, and are permitted back into the country.

But some find that the CBP officer has concerns about their right to return, or asks more questions than can be answered in those few moments. The CBP officer might then schedule them for an appointment on a different date, to be held at a CBP office in or near the port of entry. The CBP officer will give them a notice stating the location and date upon which to show up and discuss their right to U.S. immigration status. This process is called "Deferred Inspection."

Here, we'll discuss how to handle such an appointment, including:

  • why you might have been sent to deferred inspection
  • preparing for the appointment
  • what will happen during the appointment, and
  • what to do if you're then referred to deportation (removal) proceedings.

When and Why LPRs Might Have to Attend a Deferred Inspection Appointment

A deferred inspection appointment is typically scheduled when CBP needs more time and information with which to determine whether the non-citizen is admissible to the United States. This is especially common if an LPR has spent more than 180 days outside the United States, in which case they're treated much like someone applying for a green card for the first time, in that all the grounds of inadmissibility apply.

So, for example, someone who has become a "public charge," or reliant on government financial assistance, then spent more than 180 days outside the United States, could be refused reentry.

Even without having been away from the country for 180 days or more, however, a returning LPR who has been arrested for and/or convicted of a crime may be denied admission to the United States. That's because many crimes make an LPR "deportable" and/or "inadmissible," both of which are grounds for refusing U.S. entry. The commission of certain crimes, just like remaining outside the U.S. for more than 180 days, can make the LPR as inadmissible as one who does not enjoy the protections of LPR status. Even incidents that happened a long time ago can cause admissibility problems for non-citizens.

Preparing for the Deferred Inspection Appointment

You will likely have about two weeks in which to prepare for a deferred inspection appointment. This might be an excellent time to hire an attorney. The high-stakes task ahead will require preparing documents and evidence to overcome whatever doubts the CBP officer had about your inadmissibility to the United States. The attorney can also look into the likelihood that you will be detained by U.S. immigration authorities, and present any defenses to removal from the United States.

If you have a criminal arrest record, for example, you would be asked to bring certified copies of the dispositions. (But in this case, it would be crucial to get an attorney to analyze these, to see whether the crime is of a type that makes you inadmissible.) Or, if CBP is wrong about the existence of arrests on your record, you would want to obtain a certified police clearance letter from the municipality where you live, stating that you have no arrest record.

What Will Happen at the Deferred Inspection Appointment

Upon arrival at the deferred inspection office, you will check in with the officer at the front desk. (Or, sometimes there is just a clipboard or similar sign-in method; your name should already be on the list.)

A CBP officer will then call you into the office to discuss your case. It is important to answer any questions truthfully, as lying to a CBP officer is a serious offense and can ruin your chances of obtaining any future U.S. immigration benefits. If you have any certified court documents refuting what the CBP officer is alleging, you may give those to the officer.

At the end of the appointment, if all goes well, you might be released with your LPR status intact. But if the appointment doesn't go well, the CBP officer could decide that you are, indeed, inadmissible to or removable from the United States. In such a situation, you might be placed into custody (taken to a detention facility) and/or given a charging document called a Notice to Appear (NTA), which will begin removal proceedings in U.S. immigration court.

In particular, having a conviction for any of certain types of crimes can give the CBP officer the authority to take you into custody and initiate removal proceedings.

What Happens Next If You Receive an NTA

If you are given an NTA, the CBP officer will likely keep your green card and issue you with what's called a "parole card." This parole card will serve as proof of your immigration status while in the United States until the completion of removal proceedings.

The NTA will list all allegations and charges of inadmissibility that CBP believes to be true. You will be given a date and time to appear before an immigration judge, who will address the allegations and charges of inadmissibility in court. If you are found to be admissible to the U.S. after all, your green card will be returned. If not, see If the Immigration Judge Orders Me Deported, What's Next?.

Getting Legal Help

As mentioned above, it is always a good idea to consult with an experienced immigration attorney prior to this appointment, to help protect your rights to remain in the United States.

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