For most lawful permanent residents (LPRs), the process of returning to the U.S. 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 for some, the meeting with the CBP officer raises concerns about the person's right to return, or leads to more questions than can be answered in those few moments. In such cases, the CBP officer may schedule the person for an appointment on a different date at the CBP office in or near the port of entry. The CBP officer will give the person a notice stating the location and date upon which to present him or herself and discuss the person's immigration status. This process is called "Deferred Inspection."
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 U.S., in which case all the grounds of inadmissibility apply, just as if the person were applying for a green card for the first time. For a list of the grounds of inadmissibility, see, "Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out."
Even without having been away for 180 days or more, however, a returning LPR who has been arrested for and/or convicted of a crime may be denied admission into 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.
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 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, and present any defenses to removal from the United States.
In the case of an 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 bring a certified police clearance letter from the municipality where you live, stating that you have no arrest record.
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 for you to sign in on; if you have an appointment, your name should already be on the list.)
A CBP officer will then call you into the office to discuss the reason for the meeting. 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 officer is alleging, you may give those to the officer or have your attorney raise these points.
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 may decide that you are, indeed, inadmissible or removable from the United States. In that case, 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 particular, a conviction for certain types of crimes can give the CBP officer the authority to take you into custody and initiate removal proceedings.
If you are given an NTA, the officer will likely keep your green card and issue what's called a "parole card." This parole card will serve as proof of status while in the U.S. until the completion of removal proceedings, at which time your green card will be returned if you are found to be admissible to the U.S. after all.
The NTA will list all allegations and charges of inadmissibility that CBP believes to be true. You need not answer the charges during the Deferred Inspection Appointment. 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.
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.