I'm an American citizen and was returning from a trip to Canada. I had a driver's license, a copy of my birth certificate, and my social security number.

The US border police said it's no good, they can't tell if I'm a US citizen. I must have an enhanced driver's license or a valid passport.

They did let me through but said that next time I must have an enhanced ID or a passport.

Can't they run my name through their databases and see that I am a USA citizen? My photo ID proves that i am who I am!

EDIT: Ok I can understand that the law is the law and I'm required to have the correct documentation as required by law. It was unintentional, as on the Canadian border crossing website it said that you can have just a photo ID and a birth certificate which I had with me.

But it's a lie for the Border Police to say that they cannot verify that I'm a US citizen. They can verify it; they have my photo; and I was entering the country in my home state, so they for sure have the database of the license IDs and they should be able to see your if your ID is forged or not. (If not than that's really stupid. They should be able to figure that out).

It's just that I don't have the documentation as prescribed by law, and they should have said such. Saying they cannot verify if I'm a citizen is not true

  • 3
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not a question.
    – Avi
    Jul 21, 2017 at 4:03
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    Could you even enter Canada without a passport or similar proper ID? I've never heard of any border control official in the world accepting a "social security number" or birth certificate whatsoever. That's a super light proof of identity for sure... no wonder even the immigration guys of your own country were suspicious
    – user65015
    Jul 21, 2017 at 8:39
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    @Zozor in the good old days before 9-11 you could walk to Canada with a college ID and if they recognized you, just a wave. A funny story. In Fort Kent Maine, the Canadians used to come to the US cause the beer was cheaper and the people in the US used to go to Canada cause the beer was cheaper. I never ran the math myself (I only spent a few days up there), but I think one side probably had the exchange rate wrong.
    – userLTK
    Jul 21, 2017 at 8:48
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    @userLTK The crackdown on border controls has been huge. Only recently did we start addressing these issues in Europe, but I'm pretty sure 10 years ago you could enter the Schengen area with an IKEA membership card on a good day.
    – user65015
    Jul 21, 2017 at 8:58
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    Just because they can run your name through their computer system and discover that someone with that name is a USA citizen, doesn't help them verify that you are a USA citizen with that name. The documents being requested here are the ones that have been decided as official proof that you are who you claim you are, so that's what they are asking for.
    – Cronax
    Jul 21, 2017 at 10:05

3 Answers 3


If you ask on Law or Travel, you'll learn that US citizens cannot be denied entry into the US. As long as you can prove you're a US citizen, they have to let you in. This right is not explicit in the constitution, but courts have recognized it on several occasions as being inherent in the nature of citizenship.

The problem with a birth certificate is that it isn't foolproof evidence of US citizenship. For example, if you renounce your US citizenship, it doesn't invalidate your birth certificate. Indeed, the child of a foreign diplomat can have a US birth certificate without ever having been a US citizen. So yes, they may look you up in the databases as part of this process.

More to the point, there is the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which specifies certain documents required by US citizens to enter the country. This requirement is of course in conflict with the right of entry, and the way that conflict plays out is that the CBP inspector has to let you in with a lecture about getting a WHTI-compliant document in the future.

  • 2
    I would suspect that the border guards would have problems to assure that the person in front of them is the same person that is named on the paperwork.
    – Willeke
    Jul 21, 2017 at 8:43
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    US citizens cannot be denied entry into the US, but they can be detained until their identity is sufficiently established. That could mean sitting in a cell for a few hours, together with some genuine illegal immigrants. Jul 21, 2017 at 10:19
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    @Willeke The driver's license takes care of that. It's the principle form of identification in the US (and, I think, in Canada).
    – phoog
    Jul 21, 2017 at 14:19
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    @berendi with a DL to prove identity and a birth certificate to prove birth in the US, detention for more than a few minutes or in any place other than the immigration desk or secondary inspection area is pretty unlikely.
    – phoog
    Jul 21, 2017 at 14:23
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    To be rather blunt, my children had no problem getting forged DLs when they were too young to buy alcohol. I was highly unamused when I found out. Real ID is an attempt to make DLs that can't be ordered for $50 online. That's why your unenhanced DL didn't impress the border agent. Jul 21, 2017 at 17:59

Well, a US citizen cannot be refused entry to the US, but by law, you are supposed to have either a passport, passport card, enhanced licence or Trusted Traveller card (some other docs are valid too, but these are the ones I can say off the top of my head).

In essence, since WHTI was introduced, you're supposed to have a compliant document to cross the border (including those I mentioned above), but since again, you cannot be refused entry to the US, you were merely delayed and the officer told you to get a compliant document for the future.

So: BS? No!

  • Some laws, like this element of the WHTI, are unenforceable.
    – phoog
    Jul 21, 2017 at 14:24
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    Actually the fact that Canada hasn't changed its own law to require Americans to have a WHTI document to enter is probably as good an indication as any that the US very reliably takes its own citizens back without one. All the CBP can do is make reentry as inconvenient as possible.
    – user38879
    Jul 21, 2017 at 17:02
  • It's not BS that the law is you need a compliant document. But is the officer correct that he cannot verify if I'm a citizen with the documents that I did have? I suspect that it is BS.
    – larry909
    Jul 21, 2017 at 21:18
  • @larry909 the birth certificate goes about as far as one can go to prove citizenship without showing a passport. If you renounced citizenship, for example, the passport would be cancelled or at least entered into a database of invalid documents; the same does not happen with birth certificates. If the guy had truly had serious doubts about your citizenship, he would not have let you in.
    – phoog
    Jul 22, 2017 at 2:27

I am not sure if should dignify this rant with an answer, but I will.

The standard identification for crossing any international border is a passport issued by a recognized sovereign power. Your Mickey Mouse Club membership card does not fall into that category, therefore, the border guy has to do more work to verify that you are an American.

Technically you do not need any identification whatsoever. You can drive across the border buck naked on a big wheel and they have to let you in. The only problem is that they might have delay you to do the work necessary to verify that you are a citizen in that instance.

  • 6
    There are many borders where people can cross with documents other than a passport. Aug 17, 2017 at 19:14

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