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Different Last Names Could Mean Customs Trouble

Different Last Names Could Mean Customs Trouble
Jennifer Billock

If you have a different last name than your child and you’re planning on taking an international flight, you may want to go the extra mile and bring a birth certificate – or something that shows your parental rights – just in case customs agents ask for proof of your relationship.

Earlier this week, Sylvia Acosta got the third degree from a customs agent while she was attempting to get through border control at Dallas-Fort Worth with her 15-year-old daughter. Acosta says that the agents unfairly detained her and questioned her because she and her child don’t have the same last name. According to Acosta, the one agent told her “life would be easier” if she had changed her last name to her husband’s. The agent went on to ask for proof that Acosta’s daughter was actually her daughter, in the form of a birth certificate or a note from the girl’s father.

“I didn’t have any of those documents because we have traveled together internationally very often since she was a baby and I’ve never needed them,” Acosta told BuzzFeed News. “I explained that I decided to keep my name and not change it when I got married because that is the name I had built my career on and people knew me by that, and I went on and on about that.”

It took the pair 30 minutes to get through customs. Acosta alleges the agents told her she could be human trafficking without proof that her daughter was hers. Customs and Border Protection deny Acosta’s account, though, noting that the agents were only following procedures.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

View Comments (10)


  1. JimInOhio

    July 17, 2018 at 5:09 am

    Good for the CBP as it looks like they are serious about detecting human trafficking which is a terrible problem. This mother should know that traveling with a child with a different last name should raise all kinds of red flags and that she have some form of backup documentation that the child really is her daughter.

  2. mvoight

    July 17, 2018 at 6:53 am

    Seriously? She is complaining because they were looking out for the safety of the child?

  3. htb

    July 17, 2018 at 9:12 am

    Does this mean that custom agents weren’t following procedures during the last 14 years? No wonder human trafficking is such a problem…

  4. jamar

    July 17, 2018 at 11:16 am

    I mean, yeah, that’s kind of how things were back then. When I traveled to and from China with my mom with a different last name as a kid in the early 00s (90s too, but that was too long ago to remember), no one ever asked to see paperwork.

  5. kayun

    July 17, 2018 at 11:42 am

    There are many countries where if the child is not traveling with both parents, even if you have the same name, they require you bring a notarized letter showing proof that the other parent is permitting you to travel solo with the child.

  6. KLBGO

    July 17, 2018 at 1:16 pm

    So if you want to traffic someone, make sure you’ve got the same last name!

  7. BigFlyer

    July 17, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    Two American citizens travelling TO America at an American airport hardly fit the trafficking profile. Not to mention you can simply ask the 15 year old if the older person is her mother. Would be interesting to know if the girl was ethnically Asian – if not, the chance of this being child trafficking is even more remote.

  8. southpac

    July 17, 2018 at 4:18 pm

    lots of child abduction going on. 60 mins Australia did a story where they tried to return a stolen child from Middle East & failed & everyone ended up in jail for a short time.

  9. eknock007

    July 18, 2018 at 11:49 am

    This country needs to implement more safeguards into their passport system in order to avoid these types of situations. I mean with divorce and re-marriage becoming more common, many kids will inevitably have last names that are different than their mothers or fathers. So it makes perfect sense to include a parent’s passport info on a child’s passport in order to eliminate any doubts that a travling parent is the parent and not a human traficker. I mean, we have all this technology now and yet we are still relying on physical paper birth certificates to prove a relationship. This makes no sense to me.

  10. uni3052

    July 19, 2018 at 6:23 am

    I think that the Customs agents should be better informed in the sense that there are many couples that are having children without being married (I am sure people are aware of that) so having the same last name does not apply here. On top of that, there are many countries where women do not change their name when they get married. Instead of asking her to change her name, they should ask for the proper documentation when traveling with kids without both parents.

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