Since the issuance of President Trump’s first judicially-blocked travel ban Executive Order, there have been increased media reports of officers inspecting the laptops, phones, and social media accounts of those entering the U.S. While we generally have not received reports from our clients confirming an increase in invasive inspections from Customs and Border Protection officers, we nevertheless wish to provide an advisory to best prepare our clients for any unexpected situations when entering or re-entering the U.S.
First it is important to understand that as an applicant for entry to the U.S. all individuals are expected to go through regular screening by Customs and Border Protection officials. CBP officers actually have significant discretion and power over the entry process, and that includes questioning and detaining individuals, including U.S. citizens. As a result of CBP’s authority all individuals should travel in a manner that is comfortable for them. CBP has the general authority to ask for access to a device (laptop/cell phone) or to inspect your luggage and if an individual refuses such inspection they can choose to seize the item in question or detain its owner for additional questioning. If faced with detention or inspection of your device vs. admission after inspection we understand from reports that most people permit the inspection despite misgivings.
To help avoid possible issues we generally recommend against posting anything inflammatory to those involved in law enforcement. Although we believe strongly in free speech and your right to air your opinion, we regret to advise that a person should be cautious of what they do or say, specifically be cautious about what they bring with them on trips and what they post about on social media to ensure that they do experience any unexpected issues during inspection. When posting on social media, be mindful not to post anything that could come across as “anti-American,” or “anti-law enforcement”. We also advise that foreign nationals or even U.S. citizens concerned with disclosing privileged or confidential information choose not to travel with such information or plan to encrypt it. Alternatively, if questioned and your device is requested for inspection you could refuse. If you choose to refuse the officer permission to view the information, the officer will have the right to seize your items and possibly detain you until a court can determine whether your information is in fact privileged and/or confidential. Anecdotally, we have heard reports that if an officer does inspect your personal items, he or she returns the items to the foreign national shortly after inspection. In our experience we believe CBP uses the maximum – “where there is smoke there is fire,” and choosing not to give access, while a sensible way of protecting the information, is likely to only increase CBP’s interest in reviewing it.
In addition to traveling into the country it is important to ensure you have proper travel documents with you any time you may come into contact with immigration officials. With the new Trump EOs this has become more likely now. The Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) requires that foreign nationals carry their status documents with them at all times and in the past we’ve been reluctant to instruct clients that this is a necessary requirement, as reason should dictate behavior. However, there are definitely instances where the chance of inspection is significantly higher and as a result, we recommend carrying your status documents as the alternative may be a lengthy delay while searching for proof of your status to placate government agents.
Again, if any of the above scenarios relate to you we think it is wise to have relevant status documents (which are usually just as simple as a print out of your I-94 and your passport; or green card and passport for permanent residents) available for inspection.
If you have lost or misplaced your green card or petition approval, please contact our office and we will assist you with obtaining a new copy. In the meantime we wish you safe travels.
** This newsletter/memo is provided for informational and discussion purposes only. It does not act as a substitute for direct legal contact on an individual basis **