Archive for July 2008

Surrendering our civil liberties at the border

Recently, as I, a U.S. Citizen, was returning from a short trip to Canada, I was interrogated by the Customs and Border Protection Officers, even after I presented my U.S. passport. They asked me why I was in Canada, whom had I met, how long had I known my friend, how I first met him, and so on. After awhile, I stopped answering questions because I thought my privacy was being violated. The CBP inspector became angry but allowed me to proceed after he found out that I am an immigration attorney, although he accused me of evasive answers.

A federal statute states that once a person entering the United States has been identified as a U.S. Citizen, immigration inquiries should cease. However, the officer at the border can continue to inquire about issues related to Customs.

In a recent presentation by a Director of Customs and Border Protection, he opined that they can ask any questions of anybody even if he or she proves to be a U.S. Citizen. The impetus is that in their enforcement of Customs regulations, the CBP officer needs to know whether the entrant is a drug dealer, laundering money, or committing other possible violations.

However, the potential crimes CBP would be looking for are no different than the crimes a U.S. Citizen may commit when inside the United States. Therefore, just as it does not make sense to inquire of a U.S. Citizen within the U.S. at random of potential criminal activities, it also does not make sense that the same inquiry can be had just because the U.S. Citizen happens to be entering the U.S. Also, there does not seem to be any limit for what the CBP Officers can inquire since any question can hypothetically lead to some sort of disclosure of a criminal activity.

This is a slippery slope for our society. Our individual rights, starting with the right of privacy, are being violated and we are starting to accept that as a normal part of our societal duty. It is not. We should question the government and a process of thinking that allows the government to arbitrarily and without cause to have their agent intrude into our privacy, even if it happens at the port of entry.

The CBP Director assured us that his officers are professionally trained and that they will not abuse their power of inquiry. However, that is a false hope, as history proves. No matter how professional people are and no matter how well intended the policy is, granting too much power, even to the best-intentioned officers, will in time produce abuse. If we accept that our constitutional right to privacy and against unreasonable interrogatories can be violated at the port of entries because of the societal need to explore potentiality of a criminal activity, even without any reasonable basis, it will only be a matter of time before the same can be had anywhere at our roads, our office buildings, and ultimately at our homes. This is a path that will undermine the value of what America is all about, the supremacy of the freedom of individual against the tyranny of government.

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