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St Louis Immigration Attorney Jim Hacking Explains How Going to Immigration is Like Dealing with the TSA

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I had an early morning flight from St. Louis to Chicago today.  Got to the airport super early to make sure that I made it through security in plenty of time for my 6:00 am flight.

The purpose of my flight was to attend a deportation master calendar hearing at the Chicago immigration court, which is known more formally as the Executive Office for Immigration Review.  The court is located downtown and with the quick 45 minute flight to Midway, a 20 minute ride on the orange line  on the El and a short 1/4 mile walk to the court, it is actually extremely easy to get to court on time.

As I made my way through the airport, I noticed a family get delayed by a TSA official because they were bringing too many liquids on their flight and their bags were in gallon see through bags instead of quart see through bags.  He was holding up and inspecting the liquids.  The mom asked where she could get the right bags.  The TSA officer looked at her blankly and said "at home?"  Smartass.

The TSA official huffed and puffed but then let them through because one family member had no liquids and in his mind, this balanced things back out.

Now I have brought plenty of liquids in gallon bags through TSA screening in the years since 9/11 and I've never had a problem.  I'm sure this particular officer had let people go through before and will probably let them go through in the future.
But in thinking about this brief exchange and as I was making my way to immigration court, I thought it demonstrated some points that I try to emphasize to my immigration clients regarding what they can expect from the immigration officials that they may encounter.

  • Don't give the government a reason to tell you "NO."   Our job as immigration attorneys is to eliminate - to the extent possible - all the reasons that USCIS or an immigration judge might decline to approve a case.  Obviously, this is a small point when you are talking about moving through airport security.  But the principle is the same.  Small things can slow down or tarnish a case.  To the extent that you can minimize these things, that is a good idea.
  • Just because another officer let you or someone else through does not mean the same thing will happen in your case.  Many people - me included - have gone through security with liquids in a similar condition.  But on this particular day with this particular agent with this particular family, it didn't fly (no pun intended).  We frequently have clients who tell us "oh, I heard about this guy on the internet in Philly who had the same situation and he got approved?"  Aside from the fact that you can't believe all of the immigration stories that you read on the internet, its important to keep in mind that you never know all of the circumstances that go into another decision made by an immigration officer.  No two cases are the same and just because a case got approved one time does not mean that similar cases will be approved.
  • Different officers have different things that they look for.  With this particular St. Louis TSA agent, he was on the lookout for bulky liquid containers.  It is important to keep in mind that other officers probably do not have similar hangups or concerns.  They might have different things they look for - like metal in a briefcase or laptops that have not been fully removed from their cases.  We see this in immigration as well.  Different immigration officers have different things that seem to always come up in their interviews.  For instance, in St. Louis, there is one immigration officer who always wants to know about driver's licenses and he really wants the addresses to be correct on the license.  Another officer likes to look at wedding and engagement photos.  This is one reason why it might be a good idea to work with an experienced immigration attorney as we know the kinds of things that these officers look for.
  • Sometimes, the officer is just having a bad day.  Like the family in front of me, the lesson here is to just keep your cool.  Sometimes, they just want to vent but then give you the answer that you want.  This is true in both immigration and with the TSA.

We talk to our clients a lot about the phrase "arbitrary and capricious."  This is a phrase used to describe certain government decisions - that they sometimes are made without clear basis in fact or because of a particular agent's concerns.  One case might get approved with one officer but if you took the exact same case to another officer, the case would be denied.  So when it comes to immigration, feel free to contact us to discuss ways that you can help eliminate the reasons for the government to say no.  As for the TSA, we really can't help you with that !


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