Smart phones. Tablets. Laptops. It’s hard to imagine life without them anymore. However, if you’re about to travel across an international border, you should know that your devices will likely be subject to searches by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Whether you’re a U.S. citizen or not, your electronics are not anonymous safe-havens for your personal information. The Department of Homeland Security has recently expanded searches of electronic devices and other personal belongings for anyone – citizen or non-citizen – trying to enter the United States.
Can I refuse to allow DHS to search my belongings?
The sad reality is that even United States citizens have almost no right to refuse searches by CBP upon entry to the United States. Citizens, however, cannot ultimately be denied entry to the U.S., while any noncitizen may be at risk of being turned away or even detained if she refuses to allow a search of her personal effects, including electronic devices.
The law generally allows DHS to conduct searches of travelers’ personal effects if there is a reasonable cause to suspect inadmissibility. While CBP directives regarding searches of electronic devices date back to at least 2009, CBP has notably ramped up its searches of personal devices since the beginning of the year. By some accounts, such searches are reaching unprecedented levels, surpassing in one month the total number of searches conducted in previous years. Horror stories about CBP searches of smartphones and laptops have flooded the news. Even U.S. citizens have not been immune to these invasive searches of personal data.
How can I protect my personal information?
DHS has clarified that for U.S. citizens searches of devices will be limited to the information “physically resident” on the device. Searches of social media, “cloud” information, or any other data that is maintained by a third-party server will not be permitted without a warrant. While this clarification is small comfort, it does provide a blueprint for U.S. citizens on how to safeguard information from invasive searches at the border: Save it in the cloud and be certain when travelling that private information is cleared from your devices.
Non-citizens are of course far more vulnerable. They may be denied entry for refusing to cooperate with a search. Even lawful permanent residents may be subject to arrest and detention. The current administration has even announced the inclusion of social media handles as part of a non-citizen’s alien file. See Notice of Modified Privacy Act System of Records, 82 Fed. Reg. 43556 (Sept. 18, 2017). The administration has hinted that, for non-citizens, they may search all social media accounts, files, and records, whether “physically resident” on the device or not.
Thus, the best advice for citizens and non-citizens alike is to leave devices at home, and keep any sensitive information in the cloud or on an external hard drive that you do not take with you.
Consider purchasing a temporary flip phone for use on trips. Arrange for use of a computer at your destination so that you do not have it with you when crossing the border. Buy an old-fashioned book or magazine and leave that tablet behind. If you must travel with a computer or other device, transfer all sensitive information to the cloud or an external hard drive and disconnect it before you leave. Oh, and remove all your social media apps. Your Facebook friends will be there when you get back.
For questions or additional information about protecting your rights at the border, contact our office at 512-633-1785 or email@example.com.
If you are in the United States and undocumented, unfortunately, you must face the reality that you are at risk of being arrested or questioned by ICE. This can happen if you are arrested for a crime, if there is a raid at your home or place of work, or even if you just stopped in your car for having a taillight out or an expired inspection sticker. If you are detained and/or deported, everything you have cared and worked for in the United States is put at risk.
However, just because you are detained and questioned by ICE does not mean that you will be deported immediately IF you know how to protect your legal rights. The three most important things to know if you are detained by ICE are: 1. Say nothing. 2. Don’t sign anything. 3. Get an Austin immigration lawyer.
- Say Nothing: In the United States, the right to remain silent with law enforcement authorities is enshrined in our Constitution. Therefore, if you are stopped by ICE, the only thing you should say is, “Thank you. With all due respect, I refuse to comment until I speak with my attorney.”
Anything you say can be used against you later – in the criminal context (if you have been accused of a crime), and in the immigration context. So, answering the immigration authorities’ questions about where you were born, when you came to the United States, how you came here, where you live now, etc. etc. will probably be written down and then used against you in deportation proceedings. The best thing to say is, “I don’t want to speak with anyone but my lawyer.” Of course, be respectful and as cooperative as you can be – without engaging in conversation!
- Sign Nothing: The second rule for handling an ICE arrest is “Don’t sign anything.” Especially if you are unable to clearly read and understand what you are signing, do not sign anything!
Signing a “voluntary return” is considered by the immigration service to break a person’s time living in the United States. So, you may have 20 years or more living here, no criminal record, and a child with a severe disability, but if you sign a voluntary return all of those good factors in your case are wiped away as far as the immigration service is concerned. If you come back to the United States without permission, you destroy your chances of legalizing your status through a family member and you may be charged with a federal felony and sentenced to time in a federal prison. Finally, crossing the border with human smugglers is exceedingly dangerous. Thousands of immigrants have died in the process, thousands more have become victims of kidnapping, human trafficking, and other crimes. So, no matter what, if you are detained by ICE and hope to have a chance of winning lawful status in the United States, do not sign anything that they put in front of you until a trusted lawyer has reviewed your case.
- Get an immigration lawyer: If you are undocumented, the time to talk to an immigration lawyer is BEFORE there is an emergency. Interview several if you can so as to find one that you trust. Make sure your immigration lawyer has expertise in cases like yours and handles cases involving arrests, detentions, and deportation. Many immigration attorneys do not handle deportation matters.
Protection of your rights is not automatic. If you do not know what to do – and what NOT to do – in the case of arrest, you run the risk of destroying your chances of ever having legal immigration status. In the United States, our immigration system is extremely strict and very harsh in its application in many cases – especially involving undocumented immigrants. For this reason, knowing how to protect yourself in case of an ICE encounter is critically important to protect yourself and your family against the ruinous results of a run-in with the deportation machine.
Jennifer Walker Gates On G+