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Suppose, hypothetically, that I'm on my way home from a vacation in Mexico or Canada, on an itinerary that involves a change of planes in the United States for a flight towards my home country. I have sufficient documentation (visa or ESTA) to be allowed to board the flight towards the US, but for whichever reason, on arrival the border guards refuse to let me in.

What happens then? Since I already have an onward ticket for a flight home and they want me gone, will I just be detained until I can be put on that plane -- or would they insist on deporting me back to Mexico where I arrived from?

Would it be different if this happened on my outward journey, where the onward ticket I hold is not towards my home country?

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    @Heidel: But do you know those people had tickets to continue towards their home country? Also, if I'm arriving on an American airline, the same plane might well be going somewhere completely different next ... – Henning Makholm Jun 25 '16 at 17:04
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    I didn't ask that, and you make a good point. Regarding arriving on an american airline, I think most of them will be having a pre-clearance before the plane takes off to the US.. Even some other airlines (Emirates for example) do that. – Nean Der Thal Jun 25 '16 at 17:07
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    @Heidel: Preclearance is only available from a select few airports, and doesn't seem to depend on which airline one flies from one of these airports on. For the purposes of this question, I'm assuming one flies from an airport without preclearance -- otherwise the situation would never arise. (By the way, according to Wikipedia it is Ethiad, not Emirates, that has a route with preclearance in the UAE). – Henning Makholm Jun 25 '16 at 17:13
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    Thanks for the info, I never done this preclearance so i lack the info. Anyway, in general these people can always buy a ticket on the spot, that's what I know from other countries, I assume the US give that option as well. – Nean Der Thal Jun 25 '16 at 17:16
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    The basic consequence of being denied entry is that your inbound carrier is responsible for putting you on the first flight to any country, in which you will be allowed entry. That might be your home country, it might be where you came from or where you intended to go or in worst case somewhere completely different. Any more suitable arrangement is of course also possible, but based only on the leniency of the immigration authorities. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jun 25 '16 at 20:20
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I couldn't find any information about denying entry for transit visa holders (whether official, semi-official, anecdotes, etc.) Many sources indicate that it's quite rare to be denied entry to the US. According to this official summary (as of March, 2016) Out of more than 1 million visitors/day, only 367 visitors are denied entry and deemed inadmissible, that's like 0.03%. There's no mention of specific visa types.

Anyway, continuing my research about this, I found the term that CBP use in such cases, it's called "Expedited Removal". The expedited removal is basically what happens to a people who are denied entry at an airport or any point of entry. All official documents mention "removal" of the person from the US, none of them mentions anything about where to. Hence, I think it's safe to assume that you will be escorted to your next flight in your itinerary, as long as it's "leaving" the US soil.

Most of these expedited removals apply to people who are found to be breaking visa rules, that's quite hard to apply for people transiting through the US. The anecdotes speak of people who are found to be making money in the US (eg. working illegally while on B visa).

Also, the CBP officer may offer you another option beside "Expedited Removal", which is withdrawing your admission request, and then choosing to leave the US voluntarily. This will have less legal consequences, especially when it comes to the period in which you will be prohibited from entering the US, which is 5 years in case of expedite removals.

  • Note that withdrawing your request for admission makes you ineligible for the Visa Waiver Program, so you'll need a visa in future. (Still less serious than removal, of course.) – David Richerby Mar 17 at 22:11

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