The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) receives most of its media attention for its actions along our southern border. However, as the largest component of the Department of Homeland Security, CBP has a much greater role in your foreign travel experience than the TSA could even dream of.
CBP’s primary goal is to pick out the handful of potential terrorists from among the over 300 million people who enter the U.S. annually. Add to that the need to enforce every U.S. requirement for foreign goods entering the country, and those custom agents lined up at your arrival gate in the international terminal are doing a lot more than just welcoming you back home.
Custom agents verify your identity, confirm that you aren’t smuggling in any outlawed item, and try to assess whether your foreign activities indicate that you may be a shady character. Unlike the TSA, which has very specific (if sometimes ignored) procedures and limitations, a lot of decisions the custom agents make are based on personal judgment.
When agents ask if you have anything to declare, the answer is almost always ‘no.’ The agent then has just a few seconds to decide if you’re returning from a sunburnt vacation on Mexico’s beaches; or, if you’re a courier returning from a visit to a drug cartel’s production center. Despite extensive training on how to judge correctly, subjective judgments based on gut instincts can lead down a dark path.
You can protect your privacy and your civil rights by learning how the border entry and customs process works; how the procedures vary by type of entry – land, air, visa waiver country, etc.; and how the CBP is handling the proliferation of personal tech devices.
NOTE: This section on customs only covers U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents returning home. For foreign travelers, the CBP’s Welcome to the U.S. pamphlet is a good place to start. Also check out CBP’s website section for international visitors.
Apparently, U.S. Customs considers damaging (whether intentional or accidental) the embedded chip in your passport to be grounds for denying you the ability to travel in at least one airport in the U.S. The article talks about an instance where Customs chose to deny a young child access to the flight, effectively denying the entire family travel. Reportedly, the kid had accidentally sat on his passport, which creased the cover and broke the RFID chip. According to the CBP agent, breaking the chip in the passport “shows that you...read more