November 13, 2013 7:28 pm

Driving to the U.S.: What you may want to know when crossing the border

US border patrol officers uniform insignia.

Mario Beauregard/CP Images

A North Vancouver couple, still rattled after a troubling encounter with U.S. border guards happened last Friday as they were driving to the U.S. for a day of shopping.  The couple says they were hauled in at the Sumas border crossing, separated and questioned for more than two hours. They were apparently ‘red-flagged’ but have no idea why.

Is it normal for border guards to tell you that you’ve been red-flagged?

  • While it’s normal to be ‘red-flagged’, it’s very unusual to be told you have a file and/or are red-flagged. Border guards are notoriously closed-mouth and it’s only the exception to the rule as to why you’d be stopped at the U.S. border.

Do you have to give the password to your phone, laptop or other electronics if asked by the U.S. border guard?

  • The question is difficult because the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently put up a decision on that issue and it states that the border guard has to have ‘reasonable suspicion’ to go through the contents of an electronic device, computer or cell phone.
  • Often border guards will threaten people to turn over their passwords saying, “we’ll send you to jail”; which according to Boos, is coercive. It’s unclear, Boos says, when they have the authority to order someone to turnover their passwords to their phone.

Is it normal to be handcuffed and searched without a criminal record?

  • It’s very unusual for a border guard to cuff someone without a record. One way to find out why you were cuffed is to file a Freedom of Information (FOI); which would show whether the border guards had probable suspicion to warrant being handcuffed. If the FOI turns up no probable cause, then you could have a case.

What can people do if they feel they’ve been mistreated by a U.S. border guard?

  • Each guard wears a badge, make a mental note of the border guard’s certification number and name to use to file an online complaint.
  • In the online complaint describe the time, the place and the border guard involved. 
  • If you’re being held unjustly, Boos suggests asking to speak to a supervisor. He does warn that this sometimes is a help and sometimes it makes the border guards angrier. Regardless, by that point, it’s not going to hurt your case to any extent. 
  • Lastly, if you feel you’ve really been wronged then it’s best to contact a lawyer. 
  • Boos also recommends to contacting Congressman Suzan DelBene, who represents the county which houses the border and she is concerned over what’s happening at the border.

~ based on an interview with Greg Boos, U.S Immigration Lawyer

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