The “detention” of the renowned actor Shah Rukh Khan at the New York  airport in April 2012 caused a huge diplomatic scene and the Times of India reported:

NEW YORK: Extracting multiple apologies from the US for the purported slight to Shah Rukh Khan, the ”internationally renowned film star,” arising from his extended questioning at a small American airport, isn’t enough. To forestall similar hassles for its many discomforted VVVVVIPS, the Indian government, through its embassy in Washington, on Saturday sought the state department’s intervention ”to institute appropriate measures to avoid recurrence of such an incident in the future.

This incident albeit controversial is not uncommon for many people coming to the United States even as US citizens.  Unfortunately there is always a balance of protecting national security against the privacy of the individual.  However, it seems there is a disconnect between the CBP (Control Border Patrol) of the Homeland Security and State Department regarding known international figures.

This article covers some of the rights of the individuals US citizens and non US citizens at the airport.

Many airports around the country have introduced the “Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques” (SPOT) program that subjects some passengers to questioning by “behavioral detection” officers.  This program actually has officers searching for individuals who are showing signs of being potential suspects.  In other words, it is a very discretionary approach by the officers.

Airports have also introduced the famous TSA body scanners which can see through your clothes to detect any “dangerous” object.  The body scanners are very controversial machines themselves.

If there are abuses by the TSA officers, you have a right to report the officers. Since our article is limited to immigration issues, we will not be covering this subject in more details, however you can refer to the guide of ACLU –“Know Your Rights at the Aiport” on the following link

What about non US citizens entering?

Important: The CBP has constantly maintained that non-US citizens have no right for an attorney at the airport.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have the authority to ask your immigration status when you are entering or returning to the United States or leaving the country. They have the power to determine whether or not non-U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents have the right of entry.

Option: Decline to answer
If you think you are being asked inappropriate questions, you may say, “I am sorry. I believe you are asking me questions about my protected religious and/or political beliefs and practices. I do not wish to answer these questions.” This may cause you delay, but is permissible.

Option: Ask to speak to a supervisor
If you think you are being asked inappropriate questions, you can ask to speak to a supervisor–but be aware that this might cause you further delay. Also ask to speak to a supervisor if you are denied the right to use a restroom or to have family or friends told where you are. You may also file a complaint with the Civil Rights Office of the Department of Homeland Security if you have been held for a long time, asked inappropriate questions, or treated inhumanely. See below.

Option: Ask to have an attorney present
If you are selected for a longer interview by law-enforcement officials and you are a U.S. citizen, you have the right to have an attorney present. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you generally do not have the right to an attorney when you are having an extended interview.

Option: Ask for help
If you are delayed a considerable length of time, you can ask CBP officials to allow you to make a call, or make a call for you.

All visitors and lawful permanent residents are fingerprinted on entry into the U.S. from abroad.

If you are told you cannot enter the country and fear you might be persecuted or tortured if sent back to the country you traveled from, you can tell the official about your fear and ask for asylum.

Our point of view

As for the unfortunate issues revolving around Shah Rukh Khan’s situation, we are very sad that in this 21st Century with so much technology available, our country is still not ready to deal with issues from individuals coming from South Asia.

The denial of US visas has dramatically increased for Indian Nationals since the past four years.  The Shah Peerally Law Group PC has actively been advocating for the rights of the immigrants and has even lately released a movie “The Lost Dream” which talks about the issues related to US visas. The movie can be viewed on their website
As United States citizens, we sincerely apologize to Shah Rukh Khan for what he went through.  We hope that this incident will never be repeated.


Written by admin

Shah Peerally is an attorney licensed in California practicing immigration law and debt settlement. He has featured as an expert legal analyst for many TV networks such as NDTV, Times Now and Sitarree TV. Articles about Shah Peerally and his work have appeared on newspapers such as San Jose Mercury News, Oakland Tribune, US Fiji Times, Mauritius Le Quotidien, Movers & Shakers and other prominent international newspapers. His work has been commended by Congress women Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Lee. He has a weekly radio show on KLOK 1170AM and frequently participates in legal clinics in churches, temples and mosques. His law group, Shah Peerally Law Group, has represented clients all over the United States constantly dealing with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration and Custom Enforcement(ICE) and CBP (Customs Border Patrol (CBP) under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This department was formerly known as the Immigration and Nationality Services (INS).