I am a US citizen by birth and I live in the US. I was born and raised in Michigan, where I still live. I do not have status in any other country - no other citizenships, green cards, work or study visas, etc.

Let's say an ICE, CBP, or other law enforcement official stops me and takes me into custody as an illegal alien. Because I live near the border (the Canadian border), CBP officials are allowed to patrol the area; we are much less than 100 miles inland.

Once in custody, I would not be allowed to contact anyone who could provide documentation, nor would I be able to contact a lawyer who could talk to my family and get the appropriate documentation.

So what documentation can I carry on my person, every time I leave my house, to prove to the law enforcement officials that I am a US citizen and not an illegal immigrant?

I would prefer not to carry my passport because I don't want it to get lost or stolen, also it's too big to fit in my pocket and I don't want to always carry a bag, and apparently birth certificates aren't sufficient to prove citizenship (because children of diplomats, and people who have taken other citizenships and lost their US citizenship, will still have US birth certificates).

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    This isn't answer, but I carry a passport card in my wallet. It's probably not a good idea because of the risk of loss or theft, but I do carry mine.
    – mark b
    Jul 30, 2019 at 20:42
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    Michigan issues enhanced driver's licenses which I believe list your citizenship. Jul 30, 2019 at 21:26
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    The recent publicized detention of a US citizen seems to have been triggered by carrying contradictory documents, in particular, a birth certificate from a US state and a visa issued by Mexico. If there are contradictions among your documents, carry only those which agree with each other. Jul 30, 2019 at 21:45
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    @GerardAshton, I see what you mean. I don't understand why a US birth certificate would contradict a visa from another country, though. When I went to India, I had to get a visa too. It's long expired and I haven't been there in over a decade, but it's normal for US citizens to have to get visas to travel to other countries. If anything, needing a visa to go to Mexico indicates that he is not a Mexican citizen!
    – dcacat
    Jul 30, 2019 at 22:42
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    @dcacat: According to the article which Gerard linked, the Mexican visa stated that Galicia was born in Mexico. That would certainly contradict the assertion on his US birth certificate that he was born in the US. It isn't clear why the Mexican visa said this, nor how he had a visa that wasn't inserted in a passport. There could be some information missing or misstated in this account. Jul 30, 2019 at 22:51

2 Answers 2


IANAL and the standard disclaimers apply. That being said, Wikipedia indicates:

Section 202(c)(3) of the Real ID Act[29] requires the states to "verify, with the issuing agency, the issuance, validity, and completeness of each document" that is required to be presented by a driver's license applicant to prove their identity, birth date, legal status in the U.S., social security number and the address of their principal residence

If you believe you are at higher than normal probability of a CBP stop, items you can carry to speed your way through a CBP stop:

  • Correction: "Enhanced-ID": driver's license: Michigan
  • passport card
  • Memorize a URL link to a photo of your passport or keep it in your phone

Being prepared is preferable to being detained unnecessarily for a long period of time. Given today's political climate, I hope it is apparent that being polite (even when an official is not following procedure) will avoid headaches. Storing your passport and other relevant documents in a place where your family / friends / lawyer can retrieve the document would be helpful in case of extended detention of US citizens.

I like the passport card because it does not provide address information and can be attached to my smartphone. With this and a driver's license in my wallet, I do not expect to be detained for any appreciable length of time.

IMHO, I think it is unwise to rely on the contours that ACLU indicates:

If an agent asks you for documents, what you need to provide differs depending on your immigration status.

If an agent asks you for documents, what you need to provide differs depending on your immigration status. U.S. citizens do not have to carry proof of citizenship on their person if they are in the United States. If you have valid immigration documents and are over the age of 18, the law does require you to carry those documents on you. If you are asked by an immigration agent to produce them, it is advisable to show the documents to the agent or you risk being arrested.

I am interpreting the requirement to carry valid immigration document to be green-cards, visas and the like.

  • An enhanced license is not the same as a Real ID license. An enhanced license does not say anything about citizenship.
    – phoog
    Oct 22, 2019 at 13:09
  • @phoog as a notary who inspects other people's ID on a regular basis, a former holder of a Real ID license, and current holder of an enhanced license, I can state that aliens present in the US for a substantial period of time may obtain Real ID, but one must be a US citizen or national, and have documents to prove it, to obtain an enhanced license. The enhanced license is sufficient for land and water border crossings just like a passport card. Oct 22, 2019 at 13:34
  • @GerardAshton My earlier comment was incorrect as a result of confusion on my part. In fact, I intended to write "a Real ID license does not say anything about citizenship," but I wrote "enhanced license" instead. The point of my comment was also unclear. It was to note that the citation of the Real ID act is not relevant, and that the text "real-id driver's license: Michigan" is incorrect. The page it links to, however, concerns enhanced licenses, which are indeed useful as evidence of US citizenship.
    – phoog
    Oct 22, 2019 at 17:02

Per U.S. law you are entitled to counsel with an attorney and the government must provide you one if you cannot afford one. Whatever you do, do not say a thing until you are provided with an attorney.

Additionally, the U.S. is a signatory to treaties which require that the appropriate foreign mission must be contacted within 72 hours of detention of a foreign national by law enforcement (even if they are countries the U.S. doesn't have relationships with, like North Korea or Iran, those nations still have a "Protecting Power" in the United States to act in their stead. Protecting power is a any nation acting in the interests of a requesting nation to a nation that the requesting nation does not have formal diplomatic relations with. In the case of those two powers, North Korea has no protecting power in the United States, however Sweden acts as the protecting power for the U.S. in North Korea. For Iran, Pakistan represents them in the United States). Suffice to say, if they think you're a foreign person, they have three days to figure out which country and call there consulate or else it's going to be an international incident (if they catch you in Michigan they'll likely call the Canadians just to be sure, so they'll know.). The foreign mission will be permitted to do a wellness check and discuss legal matters with you and this is treated as privileged and confidential as if you were meeting with an attorney (don't be surprised if they are an attorney in U.S. Law as well. Part of the Embassy's role is to know the laws of the host country in case one of their citizens gets into trouble.).

As to what you carry, any form of State or Federal Government issued I.D. with a picture as part of the I.D. will suffice (this is why your passport is valid but your birth certificate and Social Security card are not, as they are issued without picture I.D. and usually you're quite young on receipt). States issue I.D. cards similar to drivers licenses for non-driving persons with all elements of the license required for identification purposes and they are valid in all U.S. territorial holdings (not just the 50 states, but U.S. territories as well) and typically are identifiable in both Canada and Mexico. In addition to the passport and licenses, if you are a member of the U.S. military or civilian D.O.D. employee or are a dependent family member of either, you should be issued a Military ID card, which is also valid.

Also for all driver's liscenses, a valid learner's permit will also suffice for ID purposes.

This may not be done in ideal time near the U.S.-Mexico border as timely but this due to the ongoing migrant crisis. Canada is much more quiet by illegal border crossing numbers, though it gets it's show.

As a final fun fact: The U.S.-Canada border is the longest border between two countries anywhere in the world. So if you have the misfortune to be a hundred miles inland from the border and they think you crossed it, you have worse luck then a shark attack victim.

  • Sources are sadly lacking in this answer. The 72 hours requirement is not contained in Artical 36 of The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963, which I assume you are basing this claim on. Oct 21, 2019 at 23:28
  • @MarkJohnson in fact much of this answer seems to depend on the protections afforded to a criminal defendant, for example, the right to an attorney provided by the government. Many of these protections, notably that one, do not apply in cases of civil immigration enforcement.
    – phoog
    Oct 22, 2019 at 13:17
  • @MarkJohnson: The rule was found on the U.S. State department site. I no no longer have the page and it seems to be internal U.S. policy of when the call needs to be made.
    – hszmv
    Oct 22, 2019 at 14:38
  • hszmv: from what "appropriate foreign mission" would a US citizen who has no other nationality claim assistance in the face of a claim that he or she is not a US citizen?
    – phoog
    Oct 22, 2019 at 14:42
  • @phoog: If they think they're a foreign national, they call that Embassy, or the one that is acting as a protecting power. The point is that if they're arresting the OP for illegally entering the nation, they need to figure it out. At the very least, it might be a call to the Canadians (assuming they believe OP is a Canadian).
    – hszmv
    Oct 22, 2019 at 14:46

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