Integrity Legal

30th August 2009

The United States Department of Homeland Security recently announced rule changes that will effect those traveling to the United States of America. Under the new rules, clearer lines have been drawn with regard to searches of media devices belonging to those entering the USA. To quote an official press release from the US Department of Homeland Security:

“The new directives address the circumstances under which U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can conduct border searches of electronic media—consistent with the Department’s Constitutional authority to search other sensitive non-electronic materials, such as briefcases, backpacks and notebooks, at U.S. borders.”

These new rules will have an important impact upon those Americans residing in Thailand who return to the United States of America on a regular basis. These rule changes are even more important for the fiance or spouse of a US citizen traveling to the United States on a K1 or K3 visa. In many cases, the Thai fiancee or spouse has a less than perfect grasp of the English language and therefore cannot adequately communicate with the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Officers. Therefore, it may be wise for the American citizen loved one to research the situation in order to explain to the Thai entrant the possible issues that may arise at the port of entry into the United States.

One interesting aspect of this rule change deals with the right of the person being searched to be present while the search takes place:

Searches of electronic devices should be conducted in the presence of the individual whose information is being examined unless there are national security, law enforcement, or other operational considerations that make it inappropriate to permit the individual to remain present. Permitting an individual to be present in the room during a search does not necessarily mean that the individual will be permitted to witness the search itself. If permitting an individual to witness the search itself could reveal law enforcement techniques or potentially compromise other operational considerations, the individual will not be permitted to observe the search itself.

It is important to note that the United States government has a great deal of unfettered search authority because they consider someone who has not actually been admitted into the US to be outside of the jurisdictions of the US constitution. Therefore, since the constitution does not apply, then normal rules restricting unlawful search and seizure do not apply. This can have a major impact upon an alien seeking entry to the USA, because they will not be accorded the same legal protections as they would after having been admitted.

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