The holidays are a wonderful time to travel. Sometimes the return to the US is not so wonderful, lots of non-citizens and citizens in lines waiting for inspection and admission by CBP; tired and cranky travelers and officers some of whom may also be cranky. Travelers are advised in CBP's "Know Before You Go" to plan ahead. Make sure that travel documents are current--permanent residents need to have their green cards, non-immigrants need to have a current visa and be entering for a purpose that is consistent with the visa on which they are seeking to enter. Travelers who have applied for permanent residency and are travelling on advance parole need to have that advance parole before they depart the US.
The CBP brochure is detailed and helpful, especially as it relates to customs issues. One error in the brochure is that it didn't include a recent change in policy in regard to travel with advance parole. Under current USCIS policy, one who has applied for adjustment of status to permanent residency and has been "unlawfully present" in the US for more than 180 days, may travel internationally on the advance parole without triggering the severe consequences of the 3/10 year bars that attach to those who have been unlawfully present for more than 180 days and travel without an advance parole---those folks may be barred from returning for 3/10 years. If you aren’t sure whether the new rule applies to you, it’s best to seek advice from qualified immigration counsel before taking the risk of departing the US.
Just as there is a technical mistake in the brochure, there are technical mistakes, problems and inconveniences that can take place when travelers are inspected by CBP officers. Of course, the traveler needs to be prepared for the brief interaction with the line Officer and the questions about citizenship, purpose of entry to the US, purpose of the just-completed journey and if there is anything subject to Customs declaration. The vast majority of travelers are inspected by a courteous Officer and admitted in a matter of minutes. Some aren't so lucky---and some shouldn't be.
If the Officer is not satisfied with the responses or the documents presented or with the information on his or her computer regarding the traveler, the traveler will be sent to secondary inspection. There, the questioning could be quite protracted. The Officers can request to see the contents of the traveler's wallet, laptop, as well as his or her luggage. The inspection is for the principle purpose of determining whether the traveler is entitled to be admitted to the US in the visa category requested, based on the documents presented and available to the officer. Here is where being clear-headed and not being cranky is important. The responses to Officer's questions need to be truthful. The Officer has discretion to admit or deny admission or defer inspection or subject the traveler to expedited removal (that is, deport the traveler almost on the spot). Permanent residents are able to request a hearing before an immigration judge if the Officer seeks to deny entry as a permanent resident. Other non-citizens have limited redress.
There are currently 3 main avenues of redress. Communicating affirmatively with CBP officials at the port or entry that there has been a misunderstanding of law or fact. This can sometimes reverse an erroneous decision. If the problem is a repeated referral to secondary inspection due to false hits, CBP's Primary Lookout Override system may be corrected by a CBP Supervisor who has the authority to suppress derogatory information. Once the traveler has left the US, he may seek redress through DHS-TRIP. This Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP) provides information and allows for travelers to seek redress of errors or egregious officer behavior.
As advised by CBP, know before you go and be prepared before you return, so that the travel experience ends with wonderful stories.