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I am a naturalized US citizen. I reside in the US, and I typically do not carry my passport with me when traveling within the US.

I am especially concerned that if I ever need to travel to locations within 100 miles of a US coastline or border with Canada or Mexico, I can be easily stopped by an immigration officer because I undoubtedly look foreign.

I have a driver's license that I carry with me at all times issued by a state not in the 100-mile border zone. From first-hand experience (at least my state's) driver's license numbers are coded in such a way that an officer (in my case, US Army guard at a military facility) can tell citizenship. They were able to tell that I'm a US citizen but the person I was with isn't, and we have driver's licenses from the same state. They asked to see my friend's foreign passport (Luckily, we had a photocopy of it in the car, and they accepted it).

I am concerned that if I get stopped by border police these days, they will not accept my driver's license as proof of US citizenship. Can they deport me just like that (even to a country I wasn't born in) if I cannot supply documentation they're requesting at that moment? What are my rights in this situation? How do I tell if they're asking (illegally) for more documentation than necessary, and how do I approach the officer if I think they're asking for more than required?

Will it be necessary, then, to always carry my passport with me at all times in the US, along with proof of employment, proof of real estate ownership, proof of not owing any income tax, etc.?

For those that it may apply, I know that even an expired US passport IS proof of US citizenship, and it's best not to travel out of and into the US when it is expired. However, what would one need to do if a border patrol officer insists that a naturalized US citizen is subject to deportation if that person presents an expired US passport?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Willeke Jul 12 '18 at 16:10
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Your first line of defense is to state that you are a US citizen. If they ask how you became a US citizen, say that you were naturalized.

The Border Patrol officer can probably look you up in the naturalization records. To arrest you, the officer needs to have probable cause to believe that you are lying about your citizenship.

The Border Patrol cannot deport you. They must put you in deportation proceedings, where you will get a hearing before an immigration judge.

To avoid carrying your passport everywhere, you could make a wallet-sized photocopy of your naturalization certificate or passport. Again, while it's not legal proof that you're a citizen, because photocopies can be forged, the Border Patrol needs to have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that it was forged to investigate further.

I am concerned that if I get stopped by border police these days, they will not accept my driver's license as proof of US citizenship.

Surely, they do not have to, because a driver's license is not proof of citizenship (even given the coding that you suspect exists in your state's licenses). But with the advent of the Real ID act, licenses are becoming a stronger indicator that the bearer has legal immigration status of some sort or another.

Can they deport me just like that (even to a country I wasn't born in) if I cannot supply documentation they're requesting at that moment?

No, see above. Before you can be deported, your claim to citizenship must be evaluated by an immigration judge. Mistakes do happen, though. Most cases I'm familiar with are not people who were naturalized, however, but who received US citizenship by automatic operation of law when their parents naturalized before their 18th birthday. Such people are US citizens who have neither a US birth certificate nor a naturalization certificate.

Furthermore, in order to deport you, a destination must be identified. So it's very unlikely that you could be deported anywhere other than your other country of citizenship (if indeed you are still a citizen of that country). If for some bizarre reason the judge found that you are not a US citizen, your naturalization could still come to light during the process of arranging for your deportation, especially if you have renounced your original nationality.

What are my rights in this situation?

The ACLU has a page on this: Your Rights in the Border Zone. In short, you don't have to answer their questions, but as a practical matter you're more likely to escape without trouble if you do.

How do I tell if they're asking (illegally) for more documentation than necessary, and how do I approach the officer if I think they're asking for more than required?

They can ask for anything; it's not illegal for them to ask. They can't require you to have any particular documentation, however. If they ask you for something you don't think you should have to show them, you can say, "I don't think I should have to show you that" and either refuse to show it or explain that you don't have it with you.

They can detain you beyond the immigration status investigation only if they have a reasonable suspicion of a crime. So once they're satisfied that you're a US citizen, they have to let you go unless they're investigating a crime. To find out whether they are investigating a crime (or are not yet convinced of your citizenship), you can ask "may I go?"

Will it be necessary, then, to always carry my passport with me at all times in the US, along with proof of employment, proof of real estate ownership, proof of not owing any income tax, etc.?

No. Furthermore, proof of employment, real estate ownership, and income tax records would be useless; any noncitizen can have these things. The Border Patrol also cannot detain you if you're delinquent in your taxes, which for the most part is not a crime.

For those that it may apply, I know that even an expired US passport IS proof of US citizenship,

Not quite; it's probably better to call it "evidence" of US citizenship. It only proves that you were a citizen when it was issued, and that you probably did not lose that citizenship before it expired. If your citizenship were revoked or renounced, the expired passport would not be cancelled, while a valid passport would be. (A naturalized US citizen can be deprived of that citizenship involuntarily only if it was obtained by fraud.)

and it's best not to travel out of and into the US when it is expired.

It's not usually possible to do that, and it violates the toothless law at 8 USC 1185(b).

However, what would one need to do if a border patrol officer insists that a naturalized US citizen is subject to deportation if that person presents an expired US passport?

A US citizen cannot be deported, period. If the officer insists on pursuing deportation, and you are unable to convince the officer of your citizenship, you will have to face an immigration judge. But really, the chance of it getting that far is negligible.

  • Nit: nearly any alien in US can legally own real estate (excepting only sanctioned persons, who wouldn't want to enter anyway) but only a fraction can legally be employed. (And to be really picky, not even a birthright citizen can feasibly carry enough evidence to prove they definitively don't owe income tax; the most you could prove, with IRS records of account, is that as of some reasonably recent date you hadn't failed to pay any assessed tax.) – dave_thompson_085 Jul 12 '18 at 17:27
  • @dave_thompson_085 While it is true that not all aliens can be legally employed in the US, any alien could have proof of employment; salary slips and the like do not prove that the employment is authorized. The point is that employment, property ownership, and tax records do not say much at all about immigration status, much less citizenship. – phoog Jul 12 '18 at 17:34
  • @dave_thompson_085 There are still states that do not permit non-citizens to own real estate. See, for example, Kentucky. – Andrew Lazarus Jul 12 '18 at 18:04
  • @AndrewLazarus there are many exceptions there that allow noncitizens to own real estate, including the second row for Kentucky, which notes that an alien can own land in Kentucky for residence, business trade, or manufacture, if the alien resides in Kentucky. So, for example, a noncitizen can buy a home in Kentucky and live in it, which must be a pretty frequent exception. – phoog Jul 12 '18 at 18:33
  • Or, instead of a photocopy, carry a scan in your phone. While obviously it could be forged it has a number on it that could be looked up and they can see that the information matches. – Loren Pechtel Jul 13 '18 at 1:44
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If you don't want to carry a passport book, then you can carry a passport card in your wallet. According to Passport Card from the Department of State:

The passport book and passport card are both U.S. passports. If issued for the full validity, they are both proof of your U.S. citizenship and identity.

The advantage of a passport card is you can stick it in your wallet (which you're already carrying for your driver's license) and forget about it until that day you need it.

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    "if issued for the full validity"? What does that even mean? What is this world coming to? – phoog Jul 13 '18 at 2:57
  • @phoog In some cases, you are given a passport that is not valid for the full 10 years. For instance, if you are issued the passport abroad in an emergency. Limited validity passports are not proof of citizenship in the same way full validity passports are. – Chris Dec 5 '18 at 1:20
  • @Chris why are limited validity passports not proof of nationality in the same way full passports are? – phoog Dec 5 '18 at 3:16
  • @phoog You can get a limited validity passport with less adequate proof of citizenship than is required for a full validity passport. The whole reason a passport is proof of citizenship in the first place is that you can't get one without proving you're a citizen first, and cutting out part of the process undermines its use as proof. – Chris Dec 5 '18 at 13:23
  • @Chris is that so? I don't see anything official that mentions this, but it certainly makes sense at least for cases such as the loss or theft of a passport while traveling abroad. – phoog Dec 6 '18 at 17:33

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