June 18, 2024 | Eul Basa

U.S. Customs And Border Protection Laws You Should Know

For your safety

Understanding U.S. customs and border protection laws is crucial for travelers looking to enter or leave the United States. Having this knowledge not only helps prevent legal problems from arising; but also speeds up border inspections so you can get through quickly and efficiently.

Usborder Cover

The 100-mile zone

The U.S. Border Patrol has the right to conduct their operations as far as 100 miles inland from the border. This means that travellers within this range may be subject to vehicle stops by roving patrols, stops at checkpoints, and stops at ports of entry.

vehicle barriersAqeela_Image, Shutterstock

Roving patrols

Border Patrol cannot pull over vehicles to question the occupants about their immigration status unless they have "reasonable suspicion" to do so. 

Colorado National GuardThe National Guard, Flickr

What counts as reasonable suspicion?

"Reasonable suspicion" would entail an immigration violation or a crime, but it must be more than just a gut feeling.

Armed soldier in uniform checking documents of suspect migrantMiljan Zivkovic, Shutterstock

Be aware of your distance

In general, the further you are from the border, the less likely it is that Border Patrol will have "reasonable suspicion" or an immigration violation or crime to pull you over and question you.

Border Protection facility in Clint, TexasGrossinger, Shutterstock

Always ask for the reason

If you are pulled over by Border Patrol, it's within your right to ask for the reason for the stop, and the agents should always be able to provide and explain that reason.

A Border Patrol agent searches a young Mexican man

No discrimination allowed

It's illegal for border patrol to justify a stop based on the race or ethnicity of the driver or occupants of the vehicle.

A Border PatrolVic Hinterlang, Shutterstock

Regarding vehicle searches

Border Patrol cannot search the interior of your vehicle without your consent or "probable cause" to do so. The probable cause must be a reasonable belief that an immigration violation or crime has been committed.

soldier wearing mask stand guard at a roadblockabu adel - photo, Shutterstock

What counts as probable cause?

Border Patrol with sniffing dogs can obtain probable cause if they are legitimately alerted of the presence of substances. 

A police German shepherd helps to search a detainee's carIulia_C, Shutterstock

Document suspicious activity

In a situation where you feel a false claim is made during a vehicle stop, make sure to record the incident as much as possible (unless you are at a port of entry).

Teenager driver commited a minor offence and handing over her licenceAnastasija Vujic, Shutterstock

An important rule to remember

Refusing to consent to a search does not give Border Patrol probable cause to conduct the search.

Officers from the City of Ventura Police DepartmentGlenn Highcove, Shutterstock

At checkpoints

Border Patrol may stop vehicles at checkpoints to 1) verify citizenship of the occupants and 2) visually inspect the vehicle's exterior.

Drivers show the border police officer documents at the land borderMircea Moira, Shutterstock

Secondary inspection areas

Border Patrol can send any vehicle to a secondary inspection area for further questioning and visual inspection.

Border Wall business conceptRabbitti, Shutterstock

Questions they can't ask

Border Patrol should not be asking you any questions that aren't related to verifying your citizenship.

Car driver arguing with traffic police womanNomad_Soul, Shutterstock

Regarding vehicle holds

Border Patrol cannot hold you for an extended period of time without a good cause. Unless they need more time to verify your citizenship or look into something they discovered during the visual inspection, they must let you go.

Exit controlsSpitzi-Foto, Shutterstock

You have every right to remain silent

It is well within your right to remain silent during questioning—however, if you refuse to answer questions that will verify your citizenship, they can hold you longer until they are able to get the information they need.

Police patrol checking driverNomad_Soul, Shutterstock

Do NOT flee a checkpoint

If you are driving and come across an immigration checkpoint, never flee from it. This is a felony and could land you into serious legal trouble.

Border crossingJanv.editor, Shutterstock

At border crossings

Similar to checkpoints, Border Patrol stationed at ports of entry will ask you about your citizenship and what you are bringing into the country.

Officer of the state border guard serviceAndrey Burmakin, Shutterstock

You can still remain silent

You can choose to remain silent at ports of entry as well; however, the same risk of being detained applies, or worse—you could be denied entry into the U.S. altogether.

The woman remains silentVitaliy Abbasov, Shutterstock

No warrant needed for searches

 At ports of entry, Border Patrol is legally allowed to search the interior of your vehicle, any occupants of the vehicle, and any of the occupants' belongings. They do not need a warrant, consent, or reasonable suspicion to do this.

Police agents searching for drugs or guns in the carantoniodiaz, Shutterstock

The policy for search conduct

Border Patrol searches must be "conducted in a manner that is safe, secure, humane, dignified, and professional." This means they cannot use excessive force or damange any personal property during inspections.

Policeman checking young male driver's documentsGround Picture, Shutterstock

More intrusive searches

Border Patrol cannot conduct more intrusive searches like strip searches or repeated detentions without "reasonable suspicion" of an immigration violation or crime.

Shutterstock 326490689

On buses or trains

Border Patrol is allowed to board buses or trains to conduct citizenship checks; however, they are not only allowed to search or pat down luggage without consent or probable cause unless they are at a port of entry.

A female police officer boards an E train subway1000 Words, Shutterstock

What to do if you are detained

If you are jailed or detained, you have the right to remain silent and speak to an attorney. If you are from another country outside of the U.S., you also have the right to contact your consulate.

Young attorney lawyer at deskLane V. Erickson, Shutterstock

Questions for detainees

Detainess may be asked personal information like their birthplace, the date they entered the U.S., and how long they've been in the U.S. These questions do not need to be answered and cannot be used for deportation purposes.

two men talking in the officeGround Picture, Shutterstock

Be careful with documentation

Refrain from signing anything without consulting with your lawyer. This is especially important for non-U.S. citizens, as signing certain documents could mean you are agreeing to give up your opportunity to stay in the U.S.

Young man is looking for his driving licenceGround Picture, Shutterstock

On private property

Border Patrol is not authorized to enter any private lands that are more than 25 miles inland of the border without a warrant or consent.

Private land sign on farmlandGraham Corney, Shutterstock

Always get the agent's name

When dealing with Border Patrol, whether you are stopped, detained, or being harrassed, it's always good practice to get the agent's name, number, and other identifying information.

Young man talking with police agentsantoniodiaz, Shutterstock

Videotaping at checkpoints

You are allowed to record interactions with Border Patrol on private property, during vehicle stops, and at checkpoints. However, it is against the law to record interactions on government property, such as at ports of entry.

Man setting Car Camerakpakook, Shutterstock

In terms of personal documentation

This is common sense, but don't ever provide fake documents or claim that you are a U.S. citizen if you are not. Be prepared with all you valid, legal documents before travelling to the U.S.

VISA United States of AmericaArtiom Photo, Shutterstock

Source: ACLU


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