Fumie is a threat to homeland security???

Fumie has a green card (permanent-resident card), and while the CIS (new name for the INS) has its rules about who may hold it and how it may be used, yet it seems that the Customs and Border Patrol have their own make-up-as-you-go ideas about it..... but won't tell you exactly what they are.

The CIS/INS says that one can leave the US and still return using the green card so long as you return within a year. However, if you don't intend to live in the US again, you may not use the green card (must abandon it). In our case, I'm sure we'll live in the US again, but we don't know when.

In any case, when Fumie came to The States in March (having been out of the US for 10 months), she was given considerable hassle for some hours at SFO immigration, with her being threatened for deportation. The belligerent officer said that she was out for “too long”. Fumie tried to get a definitive answer of what was “too long”, but the guy wouldn't say other than “10 months is too long”.

Everything I'd seen on the CIS/INS web site indicated that 12 months was that magic limit, and my calls to the US Embassy in Tokyo (with a fee of $30 for 12 minutes) confirmed it. It seemed that the guy at SFO was just being a jerk (as small people with big power can tend to be).

When Fumie entered SFO again two weeks ago (after having been out for only two months), she was again given the third degree (this time by a more cordial officer, at least). He said that she shouldn't really be allowed in, but he'd let her in this time (which is what the belligerent guy had said the previous time as well). They would not say why she wasn't supposed to be allowed in, but mentioned something about being outside the US for 180 days. This time, he gave Fumie a printout of the CIS/INS web page as documentation for what was required.

Unfortunately, the web pages says clearly and unambiguously that the limit is 12 months. There is no mention of “180” days or “6 months” or the like. We have no idea what the guy was thinking. At least she could come in.

A call earlier this week to the CIS/INS again confirmed that the limit was 12 months. They had no idea why the CBP would give Fumie hassles, but gave us their phone number. After consulting with the CBP, it seems that while the limit is indeed 12 months, but any green-card holder who's been out for more than six months is subject to “secondary interrogation”. And, unlink the CIS/INS rules, it seems that they consider your use of the green card to be illegal if you don't intend to immediately return to the US to live permanently. At least, this is the best I can guess of what they're thinking.

It has to remain a guess because neither CIS/INS nor CBP would give Fumie any hint as to what's in her “record”. None of what either agency explained about the rules explains why Fumie was given troubles after having been out for only two months; the lady at CBP agreed that it was likely because there was a “red flag” on Fumie's record. Is there any office, I asked, which we can visit – any way at all – to find out what the deal is, and discuss with the CBP why they think she's run afoul of some rule.

The answer was a flat No. There's simply no way for someone to find out what might be recorded about them. Even if we left the country and re-entered (thereby guaranteeing us a face-to-face with an immigration inspector), we were told that they would not divulge what might be in there.

As far as we know, it says “she had smelly shoes – keep her out”. Who knows.

At least the homeland is secure.

All 2 comments so far, oldest first...

Use the FOIA to your advantage, file the paperwork, force them to give you a copy of it. 🙂


— comment by Derek on June 3rd, 2005 at 2:38am JST (16 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink
— comment by Anonymous on June 6th, 2005 at 12:08pm JST (16 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink
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