What are our rights when passing through US Customs and Border Control?
February 7, 2017 3:39 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone produced a guide to your rights when crossing the US border, particularly at airports? I'd especially like a version that includes a rundown of any differences between citizen/permanent resident/nonimmigrant visa holders/refugee visa holders.

I travel across the US border frequently. Personally, I'm a white US citizen with Global Entry, so I'm pretty much not at all worried about my own rights.

But many friends and colleagues are instead permanent residents, or hold some sort of nonimmigrant visa status (H1B and F, mostly); others travel to the US for conferences and collaborations. I'd really be interested in a "know your rights" card that I could hand out, and publicize, for these people (and for myself, if it ever gets that bad, or if I see border guards violating the law and want to report it).

I found something like this, from the AZ ACLU, but it seems to be targeted to land crossings: https://www.acluaz.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/aclu_border_rights.pdf .
Is there a version, updated recently, for airports?

Bonus points for something portable that travelers could keep in a wallet; or for multiple language versions (although all of my colleagues are fluent English speakers, many people in need aren't). Also for breakdowns of customs questions vs. immigration questions.
posted by nat to Law & Government (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a decent summary from a few years ago.

But in short, non-US citizens have basically no rights at US airports DHS checkpoints (from that article):

CBP officials may stop travelers based on citizenship or travel itinerary at the airport (or other ports of entry, including land crossings and seaports). Police need probable cause to search someone on the street, but the Supreme Court has ruled that no such suspicion is necessary for a search at the border, including international airports, which courts have ruled to be the equivalent of a border (United States v. Ramsey, 1977).

At least two intermediate appellate courts have upheld the government's position that searches of electronic devices fall under the standard for suspicionless property searches at the international border (United States v. Arnold, 2007). Under this position, the government asserts that it can open, access (via login or password), and search through all electronic information stored on travelers' electronic devices. CBP officers may also make copies of the files contained therein or may confiscate the electronic device for further study; they must return the items and provide a receipt for identification of items.

Per the Ramsey decision, searches of the person at an international border are not subject to any requirement of reasonable suspicion or probable cause and do not require a warrant.

If travelers are selected for this longer secondary interview when coming to the United States, they have certain rights:
  • US citizens have the right to an attorney present during any secondary screening.
  • Non-citizens usually do not have a right to an attorney when questions relate to subjects other than immigration status.
So non-citizens must submit to searches of body, luggage & electronic devices for any reason and can not request the assistance of a lawyer at the border itself. Any non-US citizen can be denied entry at the border offer's sole discretion.
posted by GuyZero at 4:12 PM on February 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

The following is of unknown provenance but it's from a handout my school uses in a unit for my ESL class called Immigrant Rights. It uses an encounter of an ICE officer with somebody on the street, possibly undocumented, to teach your 5th and 6th amendment rights. It may be a little too practical for what you're looking for, but here goes:
Exception: Your rights at the border are different. The "border" includes not only the line between the US and Mexico or Canada, but also airports and areas close to the border, for example the border checkpoint [on I-5] near San Clemente, California. In these border places, you have to prove that you have legal permission to be in the US or the Immigration Service can detain you to ask more questions. They can also search you or your bags without a search warrent. Remember that you always have the right to remain silent.
posted by Rash at 4:23 PM on February 7, 2017

This is pretty much a detail, but you can be subject to a search beyond the border per se. IANAL. It's my understanding that, for example, if a Canadian crossed into the US, passed through the rigmarole at the border, but was stopped within 100 miles of the boarder , the border exception to the 4th Amendment might apply and their property searched without a warrant.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:28 PM on February 7, 2017

ICIRR has a Know Your Rights card but it's not generally as simple as the know your rights education for US citizens, doing things like protesting while wholly within the US. And it's much more complicated for noncitizens (and highly variable based upon country of origin as well as status) than the rights of US citizens, traveling on US passports.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:17 PM on February 7, 2017

Honestly, you have surprisingly few rights at the border. It's kind of shocking. I'd triple check that anything you put on that car is 100% correct and court tested as people crossing the border are very much at the whim of the agents they face.
posted by saradarlin at 11:56 PM on February 7, 2017

I don't want to MAKE a card. I want to find a card made by a reputable organization!

For example, the first answer here gets wrong electronic devices; there is a more recent case than 2007, mentioned in the link in the same comment, which seems to say the contents can only be searched under reasonable suspicion. But I am not a lawyer, so instead I'd like to get a resource from a group of experts.

I don't think Askme is that group, but I was hoping someone would know where I can find such a group.
posted by nat at 1:46 AM on February 8, 2017

Not as wallet-friendly as a know-your-rights card, but more comprehensive: from the ACLU.
posted by exutima at 2:24 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also worth noting that the last two columns of the document you found on border rights apply in pretty much exactly the same way to those questioned and detained at airports.
posted by exutima at 2:28 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

IRAP also has a Know Your Rights document in Arabic, Farsi and English.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:12 AM on February 8, 2017

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