Immigration Matters - 2017

Documenting Your Legal Status While in the United States

According to the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested over 41,000 individuals known or suspected to be in the country illegally in the 100 days following President Donald Trump's Executive Order regarding immigration enforcement priorities. These arrests were based on civil immigration charges and “reflect President Trump's commitment to enforce our immigration laws fairly and across the board." While the enforcement efforts focused on aliens who were threats to “public safety and national security," ICE acknowledges that as officers encounter other illegal aliens they “will execute our sworn duty and enforce the law." A recent ICE statement also reinforces this concept, affirming that “ICE will no longer exempt any class of individuals from removal proceedings if they are found to be in the country illegally."

During ICE's increased enforcement efforts, some individuals have been detained erroneously, including foreign nationals with legal nonimmigrant or immigrant statuses. Section 262 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires that almost all foreign nationals present in the United States must be “registered" with the proper government agency. Registration occurs either when a foreign national is admitted to the U.S. at the border and a Form I-94 is issued or when the individual's status is extended or changed while in the United States. Section 264(d) mandates that the federal government provide a registration certificate to the foreign national. That documentation must be carried at all times if the foreign national is over age 18 according to Section 264(e) of the INA. The code states:

"Every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him pursuant to subsection (d). Any alien who fails to comply with the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall upon conviction for each offense be fined not to exceed $100 or be imprisoned not more than thirty days, or both."

According to 8 U.S. Code § 1101, an alien is “any person not a citizen or national of the United States." Acceptable registration documents include the I-94 Arrival-Departure Record, the I-551 Permanent Resident Card (Green Card), and the I-766 Employment Authorization Document (EAD card). A complete list of acceptable documents can be found at 8 CFR. § 264.1(b).

If a law enforcement or immigration official requests your documentation, by law you are required to provide an item from the accepted list. However, many people are not comfortable carrying original immigration documents and a passport at all times. You can choose to carry copies of all immigration-related documents, including any receipt notices for extensions, on your person at all times. If questioned by law enforcement or immigration officials, present the copies of the documents and explain that the originals are stored elsewhere for safekeeping and that you can furnish the originals upon request.

The most common registration certificate is the I-94 card, issued at the port of entry or upon an approved extension or change of status, which would be attached to the bottom of the I-797 Approval Notice. It is important to note that in 2013, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stopped issuing printed Form I-94 cards at the port of entry for most foreign nationals. Under current procedures, most foreign nationals who are admitted to the U.S. have their passport stamped with a notation of the status type and the status expiration date. To access and retrieve the I-94 card, foreign nationals must go to the CBP I-94 website ( and enter the requested information, such as the first and last name, birth date, passport number and passport issuance country. You will then be able to view and print the I-94 directly from the website. You should complete this process as soon as you arrive in the U.S. as a way to not only prove your immigration status to officials, but also to review the record in case of an error by CBP.

Although these regulations have not always been enforced in the past, there are frequent headlines about new enforcement efforts and arrests. In order to prevent a misunderstanding, we recommend that individuals follow the guidelines above and be aware of the requirements and validity dates of your specific visa.

Article courtesy of Challa Law Group. Contact: or 804-360-8482.