Lawful Permanent Residents May Still Travel Home to United States
Our firm recently learned that two clients, who are both permanent residents of the United States, were denied entry while attempting to board a flight from Tehran to Qatar via Qatar Airways, with a final destination of Los Angeles International Airport. The elderly couple was denied passage due to an incorrect assumption on their legal status.
Our firm understands the Trump administration’s many executive orders regulating travel and restricting immigration, including Proclamation 9984, can be difficult to track, as they are abundant in number and often rely on legal jargon not immediately accessible to most airline crews. It is our firm’s desire to properly educate those administering the proper, fair, and lawful boarding of flights to the United States in accordance with US Laws and any executive order issued as of and through June 9, 2020. This advisory is for general educational purposes. This correspondence is encouraged to be distributed among those responsible for implementing the protocols discussed. We believe that with more clarity and information, airport personnel, passengers, and all other stakeholders can more readily take proper action consistent with the laws of the United States.
More precisely, this blog specifically reflects upon the state of law and the eligibility of Iranians who have (or will have upon initial entry) the status of lawful permanent resident in the United States. No other category of traveler is addressed in this memo, nor should this memo be used in an attempt to interpret other categories with entirely different boarding criteria. We will exclusively focus on lawful permanent residents (LPRs) attempting to return home to the United States.
Understanding Airlines’ Duties to Passengers
Before addressing an airline’s legal ability to permit the boarding, without fine, of a US lawful permanent resident (LPR), we note that it is assumed without question that the carrier also has a duty of executing in good faith its contractual agreements with passengers, to fly such individuals safely and without undue delay to their home country, so long as not contrary to law. On this note, we bring attention to a carrier’s liability for fines that violate US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) requirements, including requiring passengers to hold proper travel documents to enter the United States. The examples and hypotheticals here all include individuals who have lawful permanent resident status, with slight variations in the form their status is evidenced. We will explore scenarios with individuals holding cards, stamps, and temporary stamps, as well as situations where lawful permanent residents will only activate their status upon landing and being admitted at the port of entry in the United States. In all of these examples, an airline should never face fines for allowing LPRs to return to the country, with the obvious exception of the airline failing to show due diligence in detecting fraud among passengers who present fake documents to board.
Issues with Qatar Airways
While the possibility of incurring fines has led to some confusion and caution in interpreting new executive orders, Mexico and Canada have had no issues in legally returning lawful permanent residents home to the United States. It is concerning and baffling why this ongoing confusion over the return of LPRs seems to be concentrated in Qatar Airways, with a specific focus on Iranian lawful permanent residents. Many examples exist of Qatar Airways denying the boarding of Iranian LPRs seeking to return to the United States, and we hope any further confusion is eased after reading this simple overview.
Examples of Using Document I-551 to Establish LPR
Lawful permanent residents of the United States, commonly referred to as “green card holders,” hold the legal right and privilege to live and work in the United States. LPRs can later decide to apply for citizenship in the United States but are not required to do so. Three documents, all known as “document I-551,” may be used to properly identify whether a passenger is an LPR in conjunction with a valid foreign passport. The I-551 has the same legal effect regardless of the form it takes. All demonstrate lawful permanent resident status.
For example, some may have an ADIT I-551 stamp while replacing their green card. Others may be new immigrants awaiting their green card. Regardless of the type of form they hold, all LPRs are treated equally.
The three types of I-551 documents are:
- Temporary immigrant visa, issued in year-long increments;
- I-551 card, which are valid indefinitely;
- I-551 ADIT stamp, usually used in transitionary periods or in between green card replacements. They are generally valid for one-year increments.
Now we have established that a green card is evidence of lawful permanent residency, regardless of how it is represented on one of three document types. Based on recent evidence, we believe unnecessary restrictions have been imposed on Iranians due to a failure to understand that an American permanent resident may have different documents demonstrating his or her legal status. It is imperative to understand that an I-551 is valid evidence of lawful permanent resident status regardless of its type, color, or size, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. An LPR need only show one type of I-551, typically in conjunction with a valid foreign passport, to prove their status, even if a type of documentation less common to airline personnel is presented.
Can Someone Lose Lawful Permanent Resident Status?
An LPR’s status can cease only through a process known as termination, an involved process in which a final judicial opinion is subject to full appellate review to ensure that no due process rights were violated and that the facts and laws were properly applied to support the conclusion reached. It is important to understand that LPRs are deeply embedded and invested in American society, often planting roots, starting families, buying properties, managing businesses, and contributing to the diverse fabric of the country’s immigrant traditions. Terminating lawful permanent residency is an extreme act saved for the most serious of offenses or otherwise evidence of lack of residence. However, it is worth pointing out that an LPR is no longer an LPR when the individual applies for and successfully takes the Oath of Allegiance to the United States, making them a United States citizen instead. Some LPRs choose to remain lawful permanent residents due to restrictions within their country of birth.
Are Lawful Permanent Residents Returning from Iran Able to Enter the United States?
Nonimmigrants have seen the most immediate impact of immigration bans and restrictions initiated by the Trump administration, but as of June 9, 2020, executive orders have never targeted those who hold lawful permanent residency. In fact, many would argue that an executive order limiting the rights and privileges of a permanent resident is unconstitutional, as its rights, powers, and limitations are specifically designated in the Immigration and Nationality Act and cannot be abridged through an executive action. Indeed, Congress would need to specifically amend the immigration laws of the United States for any change to affect LPRs, and any change would likely not be retroactive. Further, due to the strong ties that LPRs have within the United States, any unplanned ban or restriction would be deeply prejudicial and unjust to the resident. Given the country’s strong emphasis on fairness, due process, and equal protection, no amendments or changes relating to LPRs have been imposed or are scheduled to take effect.
Green Card Holders of Iranian Background Should Feel Welcome to Return to the United States
There is a strong interest in preserving and protecting the rights of lawful permanent residents. Beyond the obvious desire to keep families together, protecting LPRs is reflective of the very founding principles of the United States. Many Americans were, at some point, a lawful permanent resident, and achieving that status is not easy. It requires years of waiting, extraordinary ability, marriage to a US citizen, or significant investment in the United States. Any perceived attack, limitation, or threat against the green card is considered by many to be a direct threat to the institutions that make the United States the nation of brilliant innovation. America’s most important natural resource, many say, is its people and the wide backgrounds they represent, allowed to thrive in a country that rewards hard work and innovation instead of cronyism or ties to nobility.
Proclamation 9984 and Permanent Residents
This proclamation, like others before it, does not, and cannot, ban the lawful movement of LPRs to the United States by way of lawful transit, including commercial airline carrier.
While COVID-19 is a real threat and a global issue causing chaos and confusion, LPRs are welcome to return home to quarantine rather than wait it out in a foreign country where they may have little to no ties. The proclamation specifically excludes lawful permanent residents from any ban, stating clearly that the proclamation does not affect US citizens or lawful permanent residents. The US government has also carved out an extension of this exclusion to the immediate relatives of US citizens, which generally encompass children, spouses, and parents of a US citizen. With these caveats for both immigration status and familial relation, it is clear that the United States’ proclamation did not wish to impede the return of any of its citizens or lawful residents, including the immediate family of citizens who could quickly become a permanent resident upon entering. This emphasis on familial togetherness is consistent with the Immigration and Nationality Act, the text of which includes frequent and explicit references to family.
It was brought to our firm’s attention that many individuals traveling to the United States as new lawful permanent residents holding stamps noted as an I-551 that confer endorsement upon first entry have faced boarding refusals by airlines. These airlines generally cite the aforementioned proclamation of new entry restrictions but otherwise fail to state why, specifically, these individuals were denied boarding. We believe that the Iranian passport I-551 MRIV can look fundamentally similar to the common tourist visa passport stamp, even appearing identical to the untrained eye. Airline personnel appear unprepared to recognize these subtle differences, resulting in devastating outcomes. As airline staff struggle to recognize validity of documents, those who wish to legally return home are losing crucial time away from families that need and miss them, not to mention those needing to return home for proper medical treatment.
As COVID-19 continues to generate shutdowns and chaos, many embassies and consulates, having limited personnel are unable to shed light on the clarity of the presidential proclamation, including the specific caveat specifying the exclusion of LPRs. Airlines should not fear fines from the United States for returning LPRs to the country. The language is clear and unambiguous, and the practice of admitting lawful residents is in step with a long line of policy and precedent recognizing the right for LPRs to return home.
Based on input received by worldwide clients of Yekrangi & Associates, we believe the confusion with regard to the proclamation as it relates to LPRs is mainly due to the three different types of I-551 documents that can be shown to demonstrate one’s status. We suspect airline personnel have not been informed or trained on how to recognize these documents or their legal meanings. Furthermore, airlines should understand there are no risks of citations, fines, or sanctions in allowing lawful permanent residents to return home.
If you are a lawful permanent resident from Iran or any other nation and believes your rights have been violated, call (949) 478-4963 or contact us online to request a consultation.