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I am Greek and a professional seaman or as the term goes in the US, a "merchant marine." To be more precise, I work on board ocean-going vessels as a Chief Officer AKA "First Officer".

I've been working at sea for about 25 years at this point and I've also served in the Navy for almost two years as an E-5. I am very familiar with the USN as we, uh, worked together with USN personnel. This will come handy later on. I am also a Merchant Marine Academy graduate.

So, last time I entered the US, which was back in 2010, I was holding a C1/D visa of 10 years duration. My first C1/D USA Visa was issued back in 1993 and I have been continuously holding C1/D visas since then. I have entered the US multiple times, I have no criminal record, no tattoos and have never violated US immigration or other US regulations.

I was also carrying letters of recommendation from my employer, a major Greek shipping firm and also letters of recommendation from our Company's Maritime Agent in the US who stated that they would cover all my expenses until I join my vessel, which was alongside discharging at that moment in some Texas port.

The CBP low ranking officer at First Screening was completely expressionless, checked my papers and did not say a word apart from directing me straight to Secondary Screening and Interview.

I was kinda naive back then and did not think anything of it, but I have since learned through some website that if you are being selected for Secondary Screening at a US airport then this means that:

Even if your visa and intentions are valid, if the CBP officer finds a problem that can't be resolved quickly or believes you're being dishonest or are a security risk, you will be sent to a secondary inspection area for a longer interview.

So, they thought I was dishonest and a security risk.

I remember sitting there together with some Turkish Merchant Marines and waiting to be interviewed by a WASP Warrant Officer (recognized his rank from my stint in the Navy).

Of all the thousands of passengers at Houston Airport being admitted freely in the US, the big brains at CBP only picked us Merchant Marines and set us aside for extra screening. There was just like 7 of us in that room. Me (Greek Senior Officer) and 6 Turkish Merchant Marines.

So, my turn for the interview comes up. The WASP warrant officer was very friendly and very polite. In all honesty, I am not sure what to think with Law Enforcement types, not sure if this was a facade or just an technique they use to interview you. I am very distrustful and wary of people, esp uniformed Law Enforcement, so I do not know what to make of this.

Believe it or not, the interview consisted of positive commentary of the said Warrant Officer of the layout and pictures of famous Ancient Greece historical episodes & famous Greek Antiquities printed on the Greek Passport. He asked what is my occupation and saw the letters of recommendation I had and also asked where did I serve and how come my English is so good.

Finally, he thanked me and sent me on my way.

So, I was pulled aside from the line and selected for Secondary Screening only to have a Warrant Officer comment positively on my passport and ask me where did I serve. I am positive the US Govt knows all about that since I am sure there's records of my service with the USN.

I am a completely honest professional Merchant Navy Officer, being at sea for 25 years, no criminal record, no convictions, worked together with the USN during my mil service, no ink, yet they thought I was "dishonest and a security risk."

I have to stress that at no point was ever any US uniformed personnel impolite, condescending, hostile or threatening towards me and I was never made to feel uncomfortable. Does anybody know whether all C1/D visa holders who are Merchant Marines are being given this special treatment at all US airports?

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    "So, they thought I was dishonest and a security risk." That seems like a stretch. CBP will send anyone to secondary if there's something that needs special processing, checking, etc.. Did this only happen one time in 2010? I can't really speculate on why you were sent to secondary, but it's something that happens all the time for a variety of reasons and isn't inherently any sort of affront to your character or judgement that you've done something wrong. Jul 7 at 9:43
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    It appears that it was not you, but rather merchant marines. Could be they were on a lookout for something, had some intel about a bad apple expected to come through, etc. Who knows?
    – littleadv
    Jul 7 at 16:04
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    Can you provide the source for your quote? What is "some website"? It could be speculation and not entirely accurate, for example they might just randomly select some people for secondary screening even if they don't see any problems
    – Calvin Li
    Jul 7 at 18:23
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    Do you mean White Anglo-Saxon Protestant by WASP? Jul 7 at 19:28
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    @AzorAhai-him- I'm very curious to know how OP could tell that the officer was Protestant.
    – Andrew Ray
    Jul 8 at 18:36

6 Answers 6

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So, they thought I was dishonest and a security risk.

Or maybe they just found "a problem that couldn't be resolved quickly," which is also mentioned in the material you quote. For example, there could be a policy of confirming the details of the ship that the crew member is joining. If the ship is to be in US waters for more than 29 days then C-1 status, which has a maximum 29-day period of admission, is insufficient.

It's not exactly clear from the CBP Inspector's Field Manual what they were doing (the document is old, but contemporaneous with the events described in the question). But from the lack of animosity reported in the question, it seems far more likely that the treatment you and your fellow merchant mariners received was not the result of some antipathy toward crew who are joining a vessel but rather was some routine bureaucratic requirement that was impractical to undertake at the primary inspection desk.

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yet they thought I was "dishonest and a security risk."

Unlikely. CBP can pull anyone into secondary for any reason or no reason at all. Since it wasn't just you, chances are someone decided to inspect all marine merchants in secondary that day. Maybe there was tip off, maybe someone just felt like doing this for whatever reason.

at no point was ever any US uniformed personnel impolite, condescending, hostile or threatening

That's also a clear indicator that there was no issue at all with you as an individual. If they had any suspicion, you would have gotten a very different treatment.

When I was on "advanced parole", I had to go to secondary on a regular basis: while some officers were courteous and professional, others were rude and abusive. I've seen some blatantly illegal things happening there. If there is any real suspicion, you know it!

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It's common for all persons holding certain classes of visas/statuses to be sent to secondary inspection. Advance parole is another one where everyone gets sent to secondary as a matter of policy. These people aren't necessarily considered to be more of a security risk; it's just that CBP decided to process all of them in secondary instead of primary inspection.

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    I traveled for 1.5 years with a USCIS wet ink I-551 stamp in my passport and also got sent to secondary on every entry. One primary inspection officer explained that they had to do that since the terminals at primary had no access to the information needed to verify the stamp was still valid (i.e. that the USCIS action that got me the stamp was still pending). Since C1/D visas are tied to an employer and can be cancelled by them if employment changes, perhaps checking that requires (DoS?) information that is similarly unavailable at a primary terminal.
    – Dennis
    Jul 8 at 9:05
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    With advance parole they put everyone in secondary to check whether the adjustment of status application was decided while the applicant was out of the country, since AP applies only while the application is pending. If it's been approved, I suppose they admit you as a permanent resident; if it's been denied then they can't parole you into the US, so they would have to remove you or perhaps admit you in some other status.
    – phoog
    Jul 8 at 16:36
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For a long time, I always got sent to secondary inspection when arriving in the USA. Some times I was cleared in less than 5 minutes, and sometimes it took more than an hour.

I started asking the inspectors why I got sent to secondary screening. Some wouldn't say anything, but the ones who did, told me I was a "name match".

It turns out that I have a relatively common name, and US law enforcement seemed to be looking for somebody with my same name and birthday. They were just making sure I wasn't the person they were looking for.

When I applied for Global Entry a few years later, this topic came up in the interview. They accepted my application, and I haven't gotten sent to secondary ever since.

I'm not trying to say this is exactly why you got sent to secondary. Only the inspector knows the reason. What I want to say is that it's perfectly possible for you to get sent to secondary, even if you haven't done anything wrong.

My suggestion is not too think too much about it, and if you see you are getting sent to secondary more often than you'd like, you may want to consider applying for a DHS redress, which can help alleviate situations like these.

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  1. There is (or at least should be) a random selection in addition to any kind of doubt for secondary screening where they just pull someone to talk with or look at their papers.

  2. The secondary screening includes things you don't see, e.g. someone calling your employer, your agent or someone else that may have something to do with you. In this case the officer may talk with you about the weather, the Greek gods or whatever just waiting their colleagues to finish whatever hidden checks they may do.

  3. They may be looking for a particular pattern related to operative information about recent or upcoming event - e.g. "all marine-related people" (pretty much likely in your case) or "all family pairs without children", etc, etc...

There are also other reasons for someone to be pulled for a secondary screening, completely unrelated to doing something wrong.

If this is the first time you get secondary screening in almost 30 years, you are lucky.

Just be patient.

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So, they thought I was dishonest and a security risk.

That's quite a stretch. Personally, I was once sent to secondary because the officer got annoyed with me. There wasn't even an interview. They made me wait for half an hour, gave me my passport, and let me go.

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