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Knowing My Rights at The U.S. Border (PART 2)

This blog is a continuation of the previous with answers to questions regardings your rights.

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These questions are answered by three U.S. immigration and privacy law experts: Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney from the ACLU, Danielle Rizzo and Leslie Holman of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Can My Belongings be Inspected?

Yes.  Everyone travelling into the United States of America must go through a luggage check as well as have their possessions inspected.  Prohibited items such as fruits and vegetables may be seized and destroyed.

Can Electronic Devices Be Searched?

There is no special preference when it comes to bag searching.  Regardless if you are U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident your phone, laptop computer and any other mobile devices can be checked.  For example a NASA engineer by the name of Sidd Bikkannavar was halted on January 31, 2017 by CBP officers and was asked for his phone and PIN to access his phone.

Note that border officers are allowed to browse through your phone and your laptop.  The government can also copy the data on your devices.  Presently, the courts are battling with this issue as it may seem like a violation of rights and privacy.  Wessler states that in 2013 a federal court ruled out that if border agents wanted to orchestrate a “forensic search” they have to suspect that you are a criminal.

According to Custom Border Patrols, electronic devices can be searched for various reasons.  If your name matches a person of interest, your devices could be checked for this simple reason, or it could be a casual search.

Can CBP Agents Request My Social Media Profiles?

Yes.  Legal Permanent Residents and Born Americans may be required to provide their social media information.  While this may feel like a violation of your rights you can always contact an immigration attorney for advice before migrating to the U.S.  “It’s a really tricky area to determine,” Rizzo comments.  Wessler agrees: “The state of the law is so unsettled because the government claims such broad power at the border.”

Back in December of 2016, the United States government started asking certain visitors access to social media profiles.  Though immigrants can willfully render their social media information, it is now included within a form that visiting immigrants from specific countries such as France, Spain, and the UK.

Can your Electronic Devices Be Held?

Your electronic devices such as your phone or laptop can be held for further inspection which may also mean your data may be copied.

Avoid being in a situation whereby your phone is confiscated.  Rizzo commented that “If you don’t want it searched, don’t carry it across the border.”  Wessler’s advice is similar: “The best advice may be to really be careful on how many devices and what kind of data you’re carrying with you.”  Regarding devices, the government cannot search what you do not have available.  It is better to leave your electronic devices at home.  Another, option is to store your data to a secure server, and clean out your information from your devices and then restore the data after passing through customs, commented Wessler.  However, this could raise suspicions at the border and put you in serious trouble.

Visiting the United States has not become any easier for foreigners since the change of U.S. presidency and the establishment of the new executive order.

Consult an Immigration Attorney

If you are concerned about travelling to the U.S. it is better to consult with an immigration attorney.  Contact The Gambacorta Law Office at 847-786-2599 for a consultation at any of the locations in Arizona, Illinois, Hawaii, and Texas.

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