Hedging our bets at the border - good or bad idea?
May 22, 2014 7:11 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I will be travelling to the States next month, for the first time since he became a Canadian Citizen and got his passport. Technically speaking, it should be easiest to use his Canadian Passport given Canadian/US relations, but his name is such that there is a significant chance that he will be pulled over for questioning. If he does get pulled aside, will pulling out his original passport to show his American Visa make things better or worse?

I know, YANML, YANMCA (customs agent). I also realize that this may be largely dependent on whoever he happens to get and their mood that day. But general guidance would be appreciated.

On our trip to New York State next month, my husband really wants to cross on his new Canadian Passport, and in theory, it should be easier than crossing on an Egyptian one (his country of origin). But given the stories and experiences of friends and friends of friends, I am concerned that he will be pulled aside for extensive questions based on his name (first name rhymes with Obama, last name is Mohamed) and his country of birth.

My question: His Egyptian passport has a valid American visa in it that involved significant security screening. If he uses his Canadian Passport and gets called in for questioning, is it wise to pull out the Egyptian passport and show the visa? Is there is a rule against pulling out a second passport once you've already presented the first? If there is not a rule, would it be helpful or unwise?

Other relevant information: we'll be crossing by land at a medium-traffic crossing so it's probably going to be a crapshoot on whether we get someone who is more or less likely to profile him based on his name and religion.

Bonus question: If they question him, as his wife, can I be part of that process?
posted by scrute to Law & Government (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have no idea how this works, but my wife recently went to Quebec and was vigorously questioned by the American guys on her was back, it was very disconcerting to her. She is whitebread Minnesotan. Can you only cross using one? Is it possible to present both at the same time? That's what I would do.
posted by sanka at 7:46 PM on May 22, 2014

Go to the U.S. Embassy or your local consulate with both passports and see what they say. The risk of getting your trip ruined by some zealous ICE official means you should have as much top cover as possible ahead of time.
posted by Etrigan at 8:19 PM on May 22, 2014

I can't really help with the which passport question, but my now-husband and I (Americans) were selected for questioning by Canadian customs and were physically separated, searched, and separately quizzed on what we were doing. Given that experience, I really doubt that you would have any meaningful ability to participate in his questioning, should it occur.
posted by charmcityblues at 9:22 PM on May 22, 2014

Your husband is a Canadian citizen. Canadian citizens enjoy visa-free access to the United States. He should use his Canadian passport.

If it's not a false passport (which it's not) and he is not travelling under false pretences (which he's not), that is very definitely the best option. His Egyptian citizenship and US entry visa has been trumped by his new status as a Canadian citizen.

If you really want to be belt and braces, you may wish to bring along his naturalisation certificate or a copy of it. But your average ICE agent is going to get pretty excited if they find someone carrying two passports.

As noted above, it probably can't hurt to go to the US Consulate and ask them, but you should always enter on the most advantageous legal entry method you have. My wife is an American citizen and also a naturalised British citizen. She's legally obliged to enter the US on her US passport and the UK on her UK passport, as both of those confer the best possible rights and legal status on her.

So, in the eyes of the US government, your husband is Canadian. That he's also Egyptian is irrelevant.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:20 AM on May 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

I would under no circumstances show two sets of documentation from different circumstances and different countries. A previous US visa will do nothing for entry into the US and could only muddy the confusion under which you may have presented it.

Cross with his Canadian passport, but have the information for the nearest Canadian government office on the US side of the border to where you plan on crossing. Write it down on paper. In the event something goes seriously wrong, cell phones could be confiscated so you want to be able to make a payphone call to your nearest consulate if necessary.

That is always a good idea for anyone crossing any borders

But 100% absolutely do not show the old passport or visa. There is absolutely no need for it and it could make a hypothetical bad situation hypothetically worse.
posted by zizzle at 3:44 AM on May 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

I concur that most border officials are deeply suspicious of dual Nationals. Show the Canadian, and only Canadian, passport.
posted by saucysault at 5:22 AM on May 23, 2014

Generally, the first rule of dual citizenship is to try to avoid showing both passports to the same person (unless it's a friend or something), especially if that person is an immigration official. Sometimes you have to show someone both (usually an airline, but I have an odd story involving needing one passport to renew the other), but it's an only-when-absolutely-necessary thing. If he's being hassled by US immigration, adding the Egyptian passport to the mix will most likely make things worse.

She's legally obliged to enter the US on her US passport and the UK on her UK passport, as both of those confer the best possible rights and legal status on her.

US citizens are obliged to enter the US on a US passport, but I believe British citizens are not obliged to enter the UK on a British passport. Why? I don't know, but supposedly you can enter on whatever passport and sort your status out later if you need to. That's not a conversation I want to have with the UKBA, but it's theoretically possible.
posted by hoyland at 7:14 AM on May 23, 2014

hoyland: "That's not a conversation I want to have with the UKBA, but it's theoretically possible."

QFT. For what it's worth I've never heard that discussed or advised.
posted by Happy Dave at 10:09 AM on May 23, 2014

In the end, we did go with the Canadian (and only the Canadian) passport. We were pulled over for further questioning. It was fairly straightforward and they spoke with us together (presumably because we are husband and wife), although the questions were primarily about him. In total, it took about 45 minutes to cross (not including the line at the bridge).

Could have been worse, I suppose (and from the sounds of it, likely would have been if we'd pulled out his Egyptian passport.)
posted by scrute at 4:44 PM on June 18, 2014

Glad to hear it went okay at the border, scrute. While of course we'll never know how it might have gone down if indeed your husband had pulled out an Egyptian passport, I'm glad you were eventually allowed to pass together and you weren't outright harassed.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:38 AM on June 19, 2014

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