Can an undocumented immigrant fly within the U.S.? Yes, they can, but that does not mean the process isn’t fraught with potential pitfalls and some danger.
In general, domestic travel involves requests for official identification and contact with agents of the federal government. This means that air travel presents opportunities for an undocumented immigrant to be apprehended by federal officials.
So, if you do not have permanent resident status or a valid visa, and you plan to travel around the U.S. by plane, you should speak with an experienced immigration attorney before you step foot in an airport.
At EMP Law, we have over 140 years of combined experience, and our experienced Winston-Salem and Charlotte immigration attorneys are at the top of their field. We are ready to take your call and find the perfect solution for you.
Do You Have the Right Identification for Boarding a Flight?
Although the law generally does not forbid the travel of undocumented immigrants between the states, identification regulations that affect everyone might block some undocumented immigrants from flying.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requires that every traveler over 18 present valid identification to a TSA agent before boarding a plane. Valid identification could include a driver’s license, a foreign government-issued passport, a U.S. passport, or many forms of identification sanctioned by the federal government.
If you do not have documents that prove that you are legally in the country, you might not be able to clear the necessary security checks for flying. However, if you are an undocumented immigrant with a valid passport from your home country or a valid driver’s license, there is a good chance you can get on a plane without issues.
Currently, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and only 16 states are willing to give driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. If you do not have a passport from your country and do not have a driver’s license, speak to a knowledgeable immigration lawyer about options in your state for obtaining a driver’s license before traveling.
Your ability to take flights within the U.S. while being an undocumented immigrant also depends on when you choose to fly. Can undocumented immigrants fly domestically in 2023? Yes, many can. But can an illegal immigrant fly within the U.S. in 2025 and later? Possibly, but travel will likely be more complicated.
On May 7, 2025, new identification laws for domestic travel will take effect under the REAL ID Act. The Real ID Act enforces minimum standards for state licenses used for domestic travel.
Under the act, states issuing REAL IDs must require the following from a license applicant:
- Date of birth,
- Social security number,
- Full legal name,
- Two proofs of address, and
- Lawful status.
If you cannot get a REAL ID, you might still be able to fly with a foreign passport, and you should consult with an attorney about the best way to fly and whether there are avenues for seeking lawful status before your next trip.
Does the TSA Check Immigration Status for Domestic Flights?
Depending on the airport you fly out of, your immigration status might be checked before you board a plane. Are you boarding a plane in Washington, Texas, California, New York, or anywhere else that is on the coast or borders Canada or Mexico? If so, you must be extra careful about taking flights without documentation.
Travelers departing from airports that are close to an international border could be stopped at a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) checkpoint that questions travelers about their immigration status.
And if the CBP discovers that you do not have legal status, you could be detained and subject to a deportation or removal proceeding before a U.S. immigration court. Deportation and removal proceedings are complex and should be handled with the help of experienced counsel.
Contact An Immigration Attorney Before You Fly
At EMP Law, our immigration attorneys are passionate about protecting immigrants who reside in this country, and we provide exceptional and diligent representation to all. In fact, our immigration attorneys have been awarded the honor of Business North Carolina Legal Elite for Immigration for multiple years in a row.
We can protect you before an immigration issue arises, and we can shield you from hefty consequences if you are currently facing an immigration problem. We are just a call away.