The United States shares a border with two countries: Canada and Mexico. Border traffic to Canada is fairly reasonable. Border clearance may be strict, but the Canadian border remains relatively quiet. The US Customs and Border Patrol is much busier at the southern border as well as at the southwest border, which the US shares with Mexico.
The Mexican border is presently the point of entry for many illegal crossings. These “illegal aliens” intending entry into the country are not all Mexicans. Many of them arrive in caravans from Central America. Individuals, as well as families and children, arrive as asylum seekers escaping the turmoil in their native land. These Central Americans may come from different countries.
Fear of crossing the United States border is felt at both sides. Many are scared of being searched at a checkpoint and not being allowed to proceed into or out of the US. Apprehensions and detentions may happen, and the best way to approach the situation is to know your rights. Here are some things you should keep in mind before you cross the US border.
- The US Customs and Border Protection authorities who implement border security have broader powers than regular police officers. You will not be told your Miranda Rights at the border between the US and another country.
- US Customs and Border Protection officers need to have reasonable suspicion based on specific facts leading to rational conclusions, and not discrimination, for them to do more than visually search your vehicle.
- Refusing to be searched is not grounds for reasonable suspicion to actually conduct a search.
Rights at US-Mexico Border Crossings
The US Customs and Border Protection officers have rights pertaining to their duties to stop the entry of undocumented aliens, smugglers, drug trafficking mules, and other unlawful crossers that intend to illegally get across the border.
They can question and detain individuals. They have the right to verify a person’s nationality, check out passports and other documents, and ask what items are being brought in and out of the US. They may search devices as well as hold onto them and copy files, but they’re not allowed to damage any personal property during their inspection. Neither are they allowed to use excessive force in detaining a crosser.
Those intending to cross the border also have rights. If you’re crossing the border, what are the ones that you should remember specifically for this endeavor?
- You have the right to remain silent and withhold information regarding your birth, your entry into the US, and how long you’ve been there. In choosing to remain silent, you should prepare yourself to be turned away or be detained longer for more questioning.
- If you’re a US citizen, you have the right to a lawyer for any kind of questioning.
- If you have a green card, a legal visa, or any other documents supporting proper entry or exit, you basically do not have the right to a lawyer, unless questioning is no longer relevant to immigration. When you do get legally detained, then you do finally get the right to counsel.
- If you’re an undocumented migrant and you are refused entry at the border, you may ask the United States Border Patrol agents for asylum if you fear persecution and harm if you return to your country.
- If you’re a permanent resident, you have the right to refuse to sign anything. Customs and Border Protection officers cannot force you to sign anything that would compromise or end your immigration status such as Form I-407 (Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status). You may ask to see a judge go over your supposed abandonment case.
- If strip-searching you is backed by reasonable suspicion, it has to be done in a private area. If they ask for a pat-down or removal of clothing that is inhibiting the metal detectors, you may ask that this be conducted in a private area.
- If you feel targeted unfairly, you may ask for the border officer’s name and number as well as record the proceeding in case it escalates. It is not against the law to take videos of interactions with patrol agents on private property, checkpoints, and vehicle stops; however, it is prohibited on government property at a port of entry.
Crossing the border can be such a contentious topic these days. If you or a loved one needs answers and clarifications on what to expect when crossing the US border, talk to an immigration attorney. For legal representation or advice on asylum, permanent residence, naturalization, and other immigration concerns, call us at Andres Mejer Law to speak with an experienced immigration lawyer.