Embarking on a domestic flight often sparks excitement or signifies a much-needed break, but for undocumented immigrants in the U.S., it can also entail a web of considerations and apprehensions.
Navigating through the nuances of legality and risk, this guide aims to light your way through the complexities of traveling within the country.
Can an Undocumented Immigrant Fly Within the US?
Yes, undocumented immigrants can technically fly within the U.S., but the journey isn’t without potential pitfalls, as unlikely as they may be. The risks and necessary precautions come under scrutiny, especially in states and areas where immigration laws and policies are stringent.
Required Documents for Domestic Flights
To board a domestic flight, a government-issued ID, such as a valid foreign passport, a state-issued enhanced driver’s license, or a USCIS Citizenship & Employment Authorization Card Form I-766, is typically required.
Here’s the full list of documents accepted by TSA. They apply to anyone flying domestically.
The recommended form of identification for undocumented immigrants flying domestically is a state-issued driver’s license (if possible to obtain in the state you reside), as it typically undergoes less scrutiny in regards to immigration status during domestic travel.
Does the TSA Check Immigration Status for Domestic Flights?
While the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) does check passengers’ identities1 and boarding passes, their focus is generally not on immigration status.
However, there have been instances where individuals are referred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Customs and Border Protection (CBP), especially if there is something unusual or suspicious noted during the identity verification process.
What states are considered domestic flights?
All 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands, are considered to be domestic locations for flights that originate within the U.S2. Thus, any flight that takes off from and lands within the 50 states (yes, including Alaska and Hawaii) is considered a domestic flight.
Safety Considerations for Undocumented Immigrants Traveling within the United States
Safety, while traversing within the U.S., whether that’s by flight, train or automobile, is laced with varying risk factors for undocumented immigrants, such as:
- Proximity to border zones
- Driving without proper licenses
- Specific state legislations like Florida’s SB 1718 that encapsulate more rigid standpoints on immigration
Consequently, if one does not possess valid U.S. immigration status, various risks are associated with domestic flying, as demonstrated in the following instances3:
|Traveler Type||Risk Level||Additional Notes|
|Individuals already in removal proceedings||Lower Risk||New elements, like criminal charges, can elevate government interest and increase risk during travel.|
|Individuals with Deferred Action||Variable Risk||While generally safe for travel, Deferred Action can be revoked at any time, especially with new criminal charges or alterations in legal standing.|
|Individuals without U.S. immigration status||Higher Risk||Notable risks are present, particularly in specific border zones or if there’s a history of criminal or immigration violations. Travel may proceed uneventfully for many.|
These categories and notes provide a baseline understanding of risk but remember, each individual’s situation can bring unique variables into play. Always consulting with a legal professional prior to travel is advised for the most accurate and personalized advice.
What is the Real ID Act (Coming 2025)?
The Real ID Act of 2005, legislated by Congress, mandates specific criteria for driver’s licenses and identification cards issued by U.S. states and territories to be recognized as valid for entry into federal government facilities, nuclear power plants, and for boarding airline flights within the United States.
While passed in 2005, the enforcement date is May 7, 2025.4
Notably, enforcement of this act was initially set for May 2023, but was delayed until May 2025, based on “lingering impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic”5, providing a brief respite in gathering the necessary identification for domestic flights.
Best Practices When Flying as an Undocumented Immigrant
- Ensuring you carry the proper identification
- Understanding the risk associated with the destination state
- Being informed about your rights during interactions with immigration officials
Typically, visa statuses are not checked for domestic flights.
No, immigration checkpoints are generally not present for domestic travel.
SB 1718 could impose additional risks for those assisting undocumented immigrants in traveling to Florida.
Yes, in certain circumstances, you might encounter immigration officials.
Yes, you can use your foreign passport for domestic flights. A valid foreign passport is generally accepted as identification for boarding a plane for domestic travel within the United States. However, flying domestically with a foreign passport does carry somewhat more inherent risks for individuals without valid U.S. immigration status.
What people on Reddit say
You may have additional relevant questions that revolve around understanding how state laws, such as Florida’s SB 1718, directly influence the risks of domestic travel. It’s crucial to continuously stay informed about the evolving legal landscape and consult with immigration specialists for personalized advice and guidance if needed. Be sure to look at the news and research the latest info on the places you plan to travel. Travel safely and consciously, even as we navigate through the complexities of immigration and travel laws.
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- https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/identification ↩︎
- https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0500830521#:~:text=1.-,Domestic%20Travel,and%20the%20Northern%20Mariana%20Islands. ↩︎
- https://www.mmhpc.com/is-it-safe-for-undocumented-immigrants-to-travel-within-the-united-states/ ↩︎
- https://www.dhs.gov/real-id/real-id-faqs ↩︎
- https://www.cnbc.com/2022/12/05/us-again-delays-deadline-for-real-ids-until-may-2025.html ↩︎