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It's been a while since I’ve been to the United States, so I’m not sure whether it’s still being used, but I remember having to always fill out form I-94 which asked some odd questions: such as whether you've ever been involved in genocide or espionage or whether you're seeking entry to engage in criminal or immoral activities.

I've always wondered what the value of these questions is. I assume US customs officials are not naive enough to believe anyone would truthfully answer “yes.” But I assume these questions aren’t just there to “amuse” travelers either. The only thing I can think of is that lying there can be used against someone in court later? Is that correct, or is there some other value to asking these questions?

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I love this question. There are other forms with even more amusing questions.. can't recall the form numbers.. –  MeNoTalk Oct 19 '12 at 21:47
    
I assume it's for legal reasons. They want to protect themselves legally. –  RoflcoptrException Oct 19 '12 at 21:56
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The US is far from the only country that asks questions like this on an immigration form. –  hippietrail Oct 20 '12 at 10:01
    
Yes, but you have a question there "Are you a drug addict?" Positive answer need not disallow you from entering, but false negative answer may bring you into troubles later. –  yo' Nov 11 '12 at 22:56

2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

There's a question about this on Skeptics-SE:

The accepted answer gave two examples of people being deported for lying on their forms, including one who didn't mention her history with the SS when she applied for a visa in 1959, and the DoJ caught up with her in 2004 and deported her.

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Should this imply that if she had mentioned her SS history that the US wouldn't have deported her for it? –  hippietrail Oct 20 '12 at 10:00
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They might have declined the initial visa application. –  DJClayworth Oct 20 '12 at 14:59
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@hippietrail: this means, they don't need any additional reason to deport her, besides providing false information in visa application. Which wouldn't be possible, if there was no such a question. –  vartec Oct 20 '12 at 23:54

Well firstly, it's a way of stating objections the US has to certain people entering their country. That makes a legal basis. It's their way of saying to every person, upfront "if you do this, we don't want you here".

To most of us, that makes no difference, but those who say, have committed genocide or have communicable diseases are made aware of it. It's a small thing, but it becomes important later. Obviously, someone COULD lie, but that will be big later on. See why soon...

Secondly, IF you commit a crime, and it's at all dubious in court - let's say they think you tried to commit mass murder, but can't make the case. They don't want you around, because, frankly, they know you want to kill, but can't prove it. But now with some CIA research they've found you caused problems in some random African country and therefore lied on your form, booyah, they have a legal reason to chuck you out the country. The punishment for lying to a US official (police officer, border guard, any) can be more serious than the punishment for the crime!

Thirdly, let's say you're a retired spy for ... The Netherlands. Stuff has come out - declassified, and the CIA knows that you were a spy, but hey, you're on good terms. However, you'll need to tick yes for that form, even though everything you've done is legit. It will raise an issue, and it allows US Embassies and consulates to consider the difficult issues like this before travel, when applying for visas.

You also may have been deported from a country, like a Cuban refugee, say. Now, years later, you're all legit, are a politician, but you're going to have to tick yes, because frankly they want to know if someone they deported is trying to get back in, OR more importantly, they may have you on file already. By declaring yes when applying for your visa, the Embassy can sort out this issue before travel, as the US will tell them that it could be a problem, so the proper authentication could be issued.

Consider Nelson Mandela. In Apartheid-era South Africa, he WAS considered a terrorist. He was in prison for decades. Then he became President. So when his office is filling out the forms, you can guarantee the US knew about his criminal past - it was world news! However as President of South Africa, he now had a very valid reason to travel to the USA.

So yes, there's definite value in these questions. It's 'amusing' and 'odd' to think about ticking it, but for many people with valid travel reasons, they need to make sure potential issues get smoothed over before they get to the US border.

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diplomats are generally excluded from visa regulations :) As a FORMER diplomat, yes. –  jwenting Oct 22 '12 at 4:28

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