USING TRIP TO FIX MISTAKES THAT AFFECT TRAVEL IN THE UNITED STATES

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    USING TRIP TO FIX MISTAKES THAT AFFECT TRAVEL IN THE UNITED STATES

    Ideally, travelers to or within the United States who have a valid tourist visa should not have their travel interrupted by immigration officials, Border Patrol agents, or employees of the Transportation Security Agency. Unfortunately, the United States government sometimes makes mistakes. When the mistakes are made by agencies within an organization as massive as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the mistakes can be difficult to rectify.

    One resource for travelers who face border issues is the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP). Travelers can use TRIP to alert DHS to government mistakes that delay or disrupt travel plans.

    Traveler Issues

    The issues that TRIP will try to resolve primarily relate to mistakes made by government officials responsible for security. Mistakes made by private businesses are not usually the kinds of problems that TRIP can resolve. In addition, TRIP cannot help with lost luggage or poor service provided by an airline.

    For example, a traveler might use TRIP to be removed from a watch list when the traveler’s name was included by error. However, if an airline is using an outdated watch list, the traveler might not be able to obtain assistance from TRIP.

    Examples of security-related mistakes that TRIP might address include:

    • Denial or delay of entry into the United States.

    • Denial or delay of exit from the United States.

    • Regularly being denied the opportunity to print a boarding pass from an airline kiosk or the internet.

    • Incorrect claims that a visa is not valid.

    • Incorrect claims that a visa does not permit current travel.

    • Claims that a travel document photograph does not match the traveler’s appearance.

    • Improper placement on a “Do Not Fly” list or other watch list.

    • Being mistaken for someone else who is on a watch list.

    • Repeatedly being subjected to secondary security screenings at borders.

    • Being singled out for excessive security scrutiny because of religion or ethnicity.

    • Improper and offensive screening by TSA agents.

    When the problem relates solely to the screening behavior of TSA agents (such as improper touching), a complaint can also be lodged directly with TSA.

    Is TRIP effective?

    A 2009 report by DHS found that TRIP is sometimes slow and unreliable in its response to traveler complaints. There is evidence that TRIP attempted to become more consumer-friendly in recent years. It is too soon to say whether the recent change of administration will affect the efforts to improve TRIP.

    Watchlist errors are surprisingly common. Even when a traveler’s name and date of birth are not identical to the person identified on a watchlist, an airline may refuse to board a passenger or a government agency may deny entry or subject a traveler to additional screening. According to DHS, 99% of delays or entry denials attributable to watchlists are caused by mistaking the traveler for a person on the watchlist.

    Watchlist errors can be difficult to correct since the government is not required to disclose whether a passenger’s name appears on a watchlist. The frustration of being misidentified can be compounded by the failure to give a clear explanation for the denial of boarding or entry. A complaint made through TRIP is nevertheless a good starting point for resolving any confusion.

    When a complaint or inquiry made through TRIP does not resolve the issue, it may be helpful to have an immigration lawyer contact appropriate authorities. Sometimes the government is more responsive to inquiries from attorneys than to those made by travelers.

    Redress Control Numbers

    An individual who has experienced travel difficulties as a result of government error can obtain a Redress Control Number by filing a complaint with TRIP. Airlines and security officials may be able to use that number to confirm that the traveler does not appear on any watch list.

    Travelers can usually supply the Redress Control Number to the airline or travel agent when booking a ticket. The number may be printed on tickets so that mistakes can be avoided by airlines and government agents.

    Whether a Redress Control Number will be effective is not always clear. Travelers who are repeatedly subjected to excessive security screening might be mistaken for someone who is on a watchlist. If that is the case, obtaining a Redress Control Number might solve the problem. But the government does not reveal why it subjects travelers to secondary screening, and a Redress Control Number might not solve the problem if the issue is unrelated to mistaken identity.

    Foreign Students

    In some cases, foreign students experience travel difficulties because of incorrect information or other issues related to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). When that is the case, a complaint using TRIP will not resolve the issue. Students usually need to contact their schools to address SEVIS issues.

    Making a Complaint

    An application for a Redress Control Number can be made online at https://trip.dhs.gov/. The traveler should review the form before applying, because it may be necessary to gather information (such as flight numbers and the traveler’s passport number) that will be needed to complete the form.

    The traveler will also need to print and sign a declaration that all facts submitted to TRIP are true. Making a false statement can subject the traveler to a prosecution for perjury, so it is important to complete the form accurately.

    The signed declaration can be scanned and emailed to DHS. It can also be submitted by mail, although that delays the process. Travelers who do not have access to a printer can email DHS and ask for a copy of the printed declaration. The form can then be signed and returned to DHS.

    It may also be necessary to submit copies of supporting documents, such as tickets, to DHS. That can also be done by scanning and emailing the documents or by mailing copies.

    Following Up

    After submitting a TRIP application, the traveler will be assigned a Redress Control Number. That number can be used to track the progress that DHS makes in resolving the issue. Inquiries about the status of the complaint can be made online.

    Travelers are notified by mail when a determination is made concerning their complaint. If the determination resolves the problem, further action may be unnecessary, although including the Redress Control Number on flight reservations may continue to be advisable.

    If the determination does not resolve the problem, it may be necessary to obtain the assistance of an immigration attorney. In some cases, the government will be more responsive to contact from an attorney than to a traveler who is not represented. An attorney may also be able to identify and explain the problem more effectively than the affected traveler.