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I used to live in the US about half a decade ago now, green card holder through (thankfully terminated) marriage. During that time, I was pulled over for speeding, and then further hit with "not using headlights" (it was in light rain, fair enough I suppose) and "driving without a license".

The latter of these was dropped by the state for two reasons: 1) I was in possession of a perfectly valid EU licence, but the officer who pulled me over mistook the date at which I no longer required the (A) plate on my car, for the expiry date of the licence; and 2) I obtained a US driving licence between being pulled over and the court date.

However, since then, every time I have entered the US I have been pulled aside into what I jokingly call the "room of people to deport" for questioning. It takes an hour, usually more, to finally get called forward, only to spend ten seconds explaining that while I was arrested the charge was dropped, before being sent on my way.

I have since left the US, but even when I visited again I still got pulled aside.

What can I do to get to the point where I stop getting pulled aside for a dropped charge? Is there a length of time after which it won't matter, or will they actually update their records to show it was dropped, or do I have to actively do something to make this happen?

  • Become a citizen. Simple. – Doc Jun 3 '17 at 12:58
  • @Doc that apparently doesn't help (see the comment on the answer). – phoog Jun 3 '17 at 13:21
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    @Doc is "becoming a citizen" ever a simple thing? (excluding the few countries that simply ask you to pay a large sum of money to get citizenship) – Andrea Lazzarotto Jun 3 '17 at 21:12
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You may not like the truth however there is really nothing you can do about it. It is an issue I have researched for a bit because I also have a flag on my profile with UK immigration and found out for the next ten years I will have the flag. The UK actually has laws which demand my fingerprints/flag to be removed after ten years at the latest.

Unfortunately the USA does not.

Expunged Records and the Underlying Conviction​

The ​Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) has held that a state court action to “expunge, dismiss, cancel, vacate, discharge, or otherwise remove a guilty plea or other record of guilt or conviction by operation of a state rehabilitative statute” has no effect on removing the underlying conviction for immigration purposes.​

Essentially the same applies for cases where you were not convicted. Immigration is free to and will continue to use that to stop you for secondary screening. See How can I know if I am still refused entry to the UK?. for some background on how the immigration setup at airports typically is.

I gather that what happens is that at the primary control point (PCP) where you first come across immigration, the officer has very little information on you except a simple code/flag against your name without the details. Hence it is only at secondary controls that they access more detailed systems/databases where find out more details and coupled with interviewing the traveler realize and conclude you're not a threat, criminal, immigration violator etc.

In a poll of attorney opinions in clearing the flag for someone with a similar case, the majority of attorneys admitted it is an uphill task. Some recommended becoming a citizen however I have anecdotal evidence even that doesn't cure the situation.

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    I have anecdotal evidence too: while being a citizen I visited Canada. On my return I was pulled aside. Guess I'll just have to deal with it. Fair enough. – Niet the Dark Absol Jun 3 '17 at 12:36
  • @NiettheDarkAbsol if you're still a US citizen you could try suing with an equalprotection claim. Maybe the ACLU will take interest. – phoog Jun 3 '17 at 14:51
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    @UnrecognizedFallingObject I was aware of the fact, however it serves to point out that immigration by default views things in the light most unfavorable to the defendant. You notice I wrote essentially the same applies.... recognizing it is not the same thing but close enough. – user 56513 Jun 3 '17 at 15:44
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    @UnrecognizedFallingObject it's not a very distant leap from the quoted material to "action to dismiss a charge has no effect on the underlying arrest for immigration purposes." – phoog Jun 3 '17 at 15:48
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You could try going through the DHS TRIP (Traveler Redress Inquiry Program) process: "a single point of contact for individuals who have inquiries or seek resolution regarding difficulties they experienced during their travel screening at transportation hubs—like airports and train stations—or crossing U.S. borders." It's recommended for people who "have been repeatedly referred to additional (secondary) screening," which is you.

It's a weird opaque process, where you fill out a form and wait several months and likely receive little information as a result, with no real guarantee it will be effective, but it's free and could help keep you from getting sent to secondary every time.

If you plan to keep your permanent residency (this is a concern since you say you have left the US), you could apply for Global Entry. The eligibility requirements require that you not have been convicted of a criminal offense, but things like simple speeding and failure to use headlights are normally considered infractions and not a problem. The downside is that you have to pay the fee and go through the cumbersome application process (including an interview at an enrollment site), and you're out of luck if you're denied. But it's an option to consider that might get you considered "trusted" in the eyes of CBP.

  • A comment implies that OP has become a US citizen. – phoog Jun 3 '17 at 17:58
  • @phoog I'm not sure if I am a citizen any more. My marriage ended and I promptly left to return to the UK, where I've been living since. Don't really know (nor particularly care) what my status is, but that'd be for another question another time. – Niet the Dark Absol Jun 3 '17 at 18:14
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    @NiettheDarkAbsol It's probably worth finding out, since if you're a citizen, you're supposed to enter and exit the US on your US passport (you're also supposed to file a tax return in many cases, even if you don't owe anything), and if you're a permanent resident, you should decide for yourself whether you want to keep that status and act accordingly. – Zach Lipton Jun 3 '17 at 18:49
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    @NiettheDarkAbsol if you were naturalized, and never renounced your citizenship then you are a citizen still. If you were never naturalized, then you were never a citizen. If you still had your green card when you left the US then you were almost certainly never a US citizen. – phoog Jun 3 '17 at 19:00
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    I'd add that if you were naturalized, you'd probably know it. There would have been a ceremony where you took an oath and people said patriotic things and clapped and everything. It ought to have at least been a generally memorable occasion. And you would have handed in your green card and been invited to apply for a US Passport. – Zach Lipton Jun 3 '17 at 19:06

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