Understanding the Search and Seizure Powers of Customs and Border Patrol Officers

Understanding the Search and Seizure Powers of Customs and Border Patrol Officers

Traveling isn’t what it used to be for U.S. citizens who go abroad for business or pleasure, as reentry into the country is a lot stricter. As legislation continues to change and become more defined, it might pay off to know what you can expect the next time you leave to go overseas— Customs and Border Patrol officers have a lot more power than you might think. What Are My Basic Rights? If you’re a U.S. citizen, you will be allowed entry into the country as long as you have your passport with you. That doesn’t mean, however, that you won’t be delayed due to various methods of searching. There has been a sharp increase in border inspections over the last few months, and just because you reside in the U.S., it doesn’t mean you are automatically let through. If you are a green card or visa holder, you may find themselves subject to random searches, or agents might notice something in particular that makes them want to take some extra time looking through your belongings. Although we all typically enjoy our constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures based on the Fourth Amendment, those protections are much more limited when dealing with Customs and Border Patrol officers. Items That Can Be Searched The authority that Customs and Border Patrol officers have over searching your property and person is actually very broad and subjective. They have the right to question you about your citizenship, can comb through all of your belongings, look through your phone, and even perform a body cavity search if they feel they have cause for suspicion. At any time during their questioning, you are allowed to retain the services of a lawyer, as long as you’re a citizen. Unless you are being charged with a crime, a green card or visa holder does not automatically have the right to request legal counsel. Is a Line Drawn For Personal Information? When it comes to electronic devices and the private information they might hold, citizens have found themselves in a gray area. Technically, Customs and Border Patrol officers are allowed to search through your phone or laptop, and can even legally make a copy of your data. Some individuals have found themselves being asked for their passwords to their social media accounts, and whether this is lawful or not is not entirely clear. Depending on your resident status, you may or may not want to comply with their request. Foreign nationals trying to enter the country could potentially be turned away if they do not cooperate, no matter how sensitive their data is. If you are an immigrant and if you are traveling, please let your lawyer know beforehand so that you can get the best advice possible. If you have questions about your rights or have concerns about your family members being able to immigrate safely, contact Landerholm Immigration today for experienced and compassionate legal help.
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