Detained in Boston Logan International

A lesson in triple-checking your travel documents


I was detained for the first two hours of my year-abroad experience. 

I sat in the Boston Logan International holding area, away from my family, waiting to hear if I would be let into the U.S.

Eventually, after a nerve-wracking wait, the immigration officer told me I would be permitted entry, adding the ominous words, “Consider this your one favor from the United States, next time you will be removed.”

OK, it’s not quite as dramatic as it sounds.

The reason I was held at the airport was entirely my fault. I neglected to bring the DS-2019 form required to enter on a J-1 (student) visa.

I wrongly assumed the visa printed in my passport, which I got from the U.S. embassy in London, would be enough to enter. 

That was a mistake.

When I landed in Boston with my family for a short vacation before the semester started, they went to the immigration area for tourists and I went to the section for those with visas.

The immigration officer looked at my passport, took my fingerprints and asked to see my DS-2019 form. 

Uh-oh.

I told him I didn’t have it on me (believing it to be in my luggage) and he told me to wait at the window while he radioed someone. 

“Tango 39, Tango 39.”

I assumed it would just be a second immigration officer who would double-check my passport and look for my name in the system, or something similar.

So the sight of a 250-pound police officer standing 6-feet-8-inches tall and wearing a bulletproof vest did not reassure me.

When he told me to follow the long painted blue line on the floor, you better believe I did just that.

He led me into a small holding room near the baggage reclaim area. 

I passed my family on the way and was able to tell them that I might be a short while and not to worry. 

Admittedly, telling your mom not to worry is a fool’s errand.

I sat there for what seemed like forever, waiting to hear my name called by someone on the desk. There were quite a few people there already and they weren’t exactly rushing through.

The room was covered in posters that said, “no cellphones.”

No one was talking. Most people just looked tired; others nervous. 

It was nighttime so there was no natural light, only the fluorescent ceiling lights. I think there was a small TV playing a cable news channel to act as a distraction.

Finally, I heard my name called and went up to talk to the immigration officer. I told him what had happened. I explained I was an exchange student entering the U.S. on this visa for the first time, and had just forgotten a document.

He seemed like a disapproving school principal at best and like he didn’t believe a word I was saying.

Up until this point, I had mostly viewed the evening’s events as an inconvenience. 

But when this guy started using phrases like “deny you entry” and “return you to your home country,” I started panicking a little.

He offered me the chance to root through my luggage to look for the document, but by that point I knew it wasn’t in there. 

I started to look for an email confirmation on my phone (I was granted permission to use my phone).

My heart was beating slightly faster.

Luckily, at this point the officer spoke up and said he was going to let me enter the U.S. on this occasion, with those ominous words from before sticking in my mind.

I left the room, met up with my family and headed to our hotel exhausted. I’m triple-checking my documentation every single time from now on.

Oh, and after all that, Boston was lovely.

Kieran Power is a staff writer and can be reached at opinion@ubspectrum.com.