Many U.S. citizens — especially first time international travelers –, are very surprised to learn that immigration inspectors at U.S. airports also require U.S. citizens to go through inspection upon their return from abroad.
When an inspector (a CBP officer) is convinced that an applicant for admission to the U.S. is a citizen of the United States, the examination is terminated. The grounds of inadmissibility contained in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) are applicable only to aliens. Consequently, the examination of a person claiming to be a United States citizen is limited to matters required to establish present citizenship. Once CBP is satisfied the person being examined is a U.S. citizen, the examination is over.
Temporary detention of a U.S. citizen for extensive questioning generally requires reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in illegal activity. Inspectors cross-designated to perform Customs inspections may, of course, continue questioning for Customs purposes. If probable cause to arrest the U.S. citizen cannot be developed within a reasonable period of time, the person must be released.
It is important to note that although the United States does not formally recognize “dual nationality”; many other countries do. It is not unusual to encounter a United States citizen (even native born) bearing evidence of both United States citizenship and foreign nationality. For example, a child born in the United States to a foreign national may, under the laws of that country, be entitled to its parent’s citizenship and be included in the parent’s passport. Under certain circumstances, that document may be used for identification and entry, if presented in conjunction with a birth certificate or other evidence of U.S. citizenship.
A United States passport (even if expired) may be accepted as evidence of citizenship in the absence of information showing that the holder has expatriated. The ordinary passport is issued to a citizen of the United States who is going abroad for personal or business reasons. It is valid for a period of ten years from the date of issuance unless specifically restricted to a shorter time, in which case the document is usually a “duplicate” issued in replacement of one lost or stolen.
A spouse, minor child, or minor unmarried sibling may be included on the passport of a U.S. citizen if such spouse, child, or sibling is also a U.S. citizen. In a situation where a passport is required for travel, a passport is valid for the reentry of the dependent only if accompanying the principal passport holder. A dependent may, however, present such a passport as evidence of citizenship when returning from a place where no U.S. passport is required.
When an applicant fails to present a passport or presents an expired document, the immigration officer shall, if satisfied that the person is a United States citizen, advise the individual of the necessity of having a valid U.S. passport. Although technically CBP would be waiving the passport requirement for the Department of State, no special form need be completed.
Other common documents that may help to establish United States citizenship include the following:
(1) A Certificate of Naturalization,
(2) A Certificate of Citizenship,
(3) Citizen’s identification cards (Forms I-179 or I-197),
(4) State Department Certificates of Identity and Registration (Forms FS-225 and FS-225A),
(5) The U.S. Coast Guard Mariner’s Document indicating U.S. nationality (“Z-card”),
(6) Birth Certificate showing a place of birth in the U.S. accompanied by good identification, and
(7) Baptismal certificates or other forms of secondary evidence of U.S. citizenship.
Please note that according to government sources, most documented false claims to U.S. citizenship will be carrying birth certificates, baptismal certificates, or both. These documents can often be most easily obtained, altered, or manufactured.