Is it safer to travel by bus or plane?

Is it safer to travel by bus or plane?

Dear Atty. Gurfinkel:

I overstayed my visa, and am now out of status (TNT). I’m living in California, and want to visit my relatives on the East Coast. I’m afraid of flying, because they have immigration officers at the airport, and I’m concerned they will just pick me up at the airport and deport me home. So, I’m considering taking a bus, to avoid the immigration officers at the airport.

Do you think it is better or safer to take a bus than to fly?

Very truly yours,
NR

Dear NR:

There is no right or wrong answer, but I will give you some observations:

When you’re flying domestically (within the United States), ordinarily you do not encounter Customs and Border Protection (CBP). You don’t need a passport and visa to fly within Mainland US and Hawaii. Many people, including myself, travel by showing my driver’s license. If a person cannot obtain a driver’s license (because of their immigration status) they can present the picture page of their unexpired passport, which is considered a government-issued form of identification in order to prove identity to TSA.

As for TSA, their role is to examine luggage and carry-ons in connection with safety and security, not for immigration inspection. That is the role of CBP. Even US citizens have to go through TSA, and TSA should typically be checking only the picture page of your current passport, and should not be asking for visas or other immigration status when you’re flying domestically.

The problem or concern in taking a bus is that you don’t know where the immigration checkpoints are located. I’ve had several consultations where a person decided to take a bus instead of a plane, out of fear of being confronted by CBP at the airport. Unfortunately, even when the bus was hundreds of miles from the Mexican border, there was still a border checkpoint. The bus was stopped, immigration officers got on board and asked for everyone’s proof of legal status.  Those without proper documentation were removed from the bus, and placed in removal proceedings. Had they taken a plane instead, it is most likely they would have reached their destination without ever having encountered border patrol.

I also know that there are hundreds of millions of people flying domestically each year, and there are certainly a large number who are out of status. But I have not heard in any news reports about CBP enforcement activities on domestic flights. While that’s not a guarantee, the risk is bigger in taking a bus for long distances trips.

But the bottom line is if you are out of status, you may want to consult with an immigration attorney, who can evaluate your situation and perhaps advise you on possible ways to legalize your status. This way, you would not have any of these concerns whenever you travel within the US.

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