On January 6, 2020, in the wake of the U.S. airstrike against an Iranian general days earlier, the Department of Homeland Security updated its National Terrorism Advisory System to warn of Iran’s ability to retaliate against the United States through terrorism or cyberattacks or violence by homegrown extremists. This seemed to lead to a wave of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, mostly of Iranian descent, being put through hours and hours of rigorous questioning at the U.S. border or other Ports-of-Entry, such as in Washington State at the Blaine Peace Arch border crossing with British Columbia, Canada, the weekend of January 5-7, 2020. This particular weekend coincided with a concert in Canada by an Iranian pop star as well as when many people were returning to the U.S. from end of year holidays abroad. The media reports of firsthand accounts of U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents (“LPR”) of Iranian descent being sent through a prolonged secondary inspection process. These accounts indicated that the U.S. Custom and Border Patrol (“CBP”) officers were focusing questions on political views and allegiances, military service, employment and education.
U.S. citizens cannot be denied reentry to the United States for refusing to answer a CBP officer’s questions. LPRs cannot be refused entry, unless they have committed certain crimes. But, an LPR attempting reentry to the U.S. after an extended absence would likely also experience a prolonged secondary inspection even without the update to the advisory system. In the case of U.S. citizens and LPRs, invoking your right not to answer questions will likely cause delays before CBP eventually allows you to pass through the CBP inspection point and into the U.S. On the other hand, noncitizens requesting entry for purposes such as tourism, employment or to resume studies as an international student may be denied entry for refusing to cooperate with CBP.
Quite often CBP officers attempt to convince LPRs who have been out of the U.S. for extended periods that they have abandoned their status. This is legally false regardless of how strongly the CBP officer states it. When an LPR experiences this situation, it often includes the CBP officer urging you to sign a Form I-407, Record of Abandonment. However, you cannot not lose your lawful permanent residence status only based on time spent out of the United States. The government must prove abandonment and you have the right to a hearing before an immigration judge. The Form I-407 must be signed voluntarily and you can refuse to sign it. In all cases, it is best to consult with a licensed attorney and not to sign the Form I-407, if you do not wish to abandon your status as a lawful permanent resident.
Please see the Know Your Rights: What to Do If You are Detained at a Port of Entry (Lawful Permanent Residents) published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association ©2018.