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 protected].
For U.S. Citizens: Here’s How and Why to Contact Your Elected Representatives.
One key aspect of our democratic system involves contacting our members of Congress about issues that matter to us. Each time you call, write, email or fax your member of Congress, his or her office staff must stop and make a recording of your communication. The more letters, notes, faxes, and emails you send, and the more calls you make – or better yet, the more you visit their offices – the more staff time you consume. When we contact them repeatedly about issues that matter, we can sometimes actually get the attention of our elected officials. For these reasons, we at WGV are asking all of our U.S. Citizen clients to contact their members of Congress.
Here are some ways to do it:
A wonderful new smart phone app allows you to quickly and easily send a text message to your elected representatives – the app converts your text into a fax that is then sent to your Senators’ offices. To use, just text the word “Resist” to 50-409 and follow the instructions. Each time you would like to send a new fax, simply re-text the word “Resist.” Feel free to text them every single day!
Send them mail!
For your convenience, WGV has printed several hundred new pro-immigrant post cards (image above). In addition, we have pre-addressed these for congressional representatives from around Texas as well as for the White House. Come on in to the office and fill out some cards. We’ll gladly stamp and send them for you.
In the age of the smart phone, it is easy to put your member of Congress on speed dial. Each member has at least two or three offices – one in DC and at least one in the area they represent. Call every office and recruit friends and family members from around the state and country to call as well. All it takes is approximately a dozen calls on a particular issue to really make an impact. And it’s free!
WGV is here to help
We at WGV are glad to support friends and clients in their efforts to participate in our democracy. Our office staff can provide translation, assist with looking up representatives and contact information, and send correspondence for you to the President and Congress.
Support the Dream Act of 2017!
A bi-partisan group of law-makers has introduced the Dream Act of 2017. If passed, this law would serve to provide permanent resident status to those in our community who arrived in the USA as children and have grown up here.
This program would be an enormous benefit to our families, our communities, and our economy. However, the President has indicated that he intends to use the proposal as a bargaining chip in his battle to secure Congressional funding for a border wall and ramped up deportations.
Our law-makers need to know how we feel about these issues. Please contact your members of Congress and say:
- Please support the DREAM Act of 2017 as written.
- No funding for Trump’s border wall.
- No increased detention and deportation of our immigrant community.
- Please pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform!
On Tuesday, September 5, 2017, the Trump Administration ended the Obama-era program known as “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” or “DACA.” Many of our clients have been asking the following questions:
Q: If I have DACA, will I be able to keep working?
A: Yes. You will be eligible to continue working lawfully until the expiration of your work permit.
Q: If I have DACA, will ICE use the information on my applications to find me and deport me?
A: Probably not. The Department of Homeland Security has announced that information provided by DACA applicants will not be furnished to ICE for deportation purposes unless an individual is a criminal or security threat.
Q: If I have DACA and it expires on or before March 5, 2018, will I be able to renew it?
A: Yes. You must submit your application to renew your DACA before October 5, 2017.
Q: If I have DACA and it expires after March 5, 2018, will I be able to renew it?
A: No. If you submit a renewal application, it will be rejected.
Q: If I have a DACA application pending, may it still be approved?
R: Applications that were submitted before September 5, 2017 will be adjudicated.
Q: If I have DACA Advance Parole, may I still travel?
R: Yes. However, it is advisable to consult with your attorney regarding your planned travel before departing the USA.
Q: I have an application for DACA Advance Parole pending with USCIS. What is going to happen?
A: USCIS has announced that pending applications for DACA Advance Parole will be returned along with the filing fees to the applicants.
We at WGV will continue to fight for our many beloved immigrant youth – those who benefitted from DACA and those who did not – as well as for our many undocumented family and friends.
If you need assistance renewing DACA, please contact us immediately at (512) 633 – 1785.