"U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was established in 2003 as
an arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It combined agents
from the U.S. Customs Service, the former Immigration and Naturalization
Service and agricultural inspectors, who monitor the ports of entry,
and the U.S. Border Patrol, who monitor the area between ports of entry.
Today, CBP is the largest law enforcement agency within DHS, with more
than 58,000 employees. As federal officers, CBP agents may only exercise
the authority granted under federal statutes and regulations. This fact
sheet provides a snapshot of search, interrogation, and arrest powers
currently authorized under the law.
Authority to Search
At Ports of Entry
Under the Fourth Amendment, searches of persons arriving at
U.S. ports of entry and personal effects in their possession,
including computers or other personal devices, are reasonable per se.
Thus, CBP agents do not need to obtain a warrant or have reason to
suspect an individual is engaged in illegal activity before
performing a search.
It is unclear whether this rule also applies to CBP efforts to interdict outgoing traffic of persons who are leaving the United States.
Between Ports of Entry
CBP agents may search for noncitizens on any “railway car,
aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle” that is “within a reasonable
distance from any external boundary of the United States.”
Under federal regulations, “reasonable distance” means within
100 air miles from any external boundary of the United States.
In the context of roving border patrols within 100 miles of the
border, CBP agents may pull over cars to question occupants about
their citizenship or immigration status if they have “reasonable
suspicion” of unlawful activity.
Standing alone, an occupant’s ethnicity is not sufficient to
establish reasonable suspicion. Pulling over a vehicle solely on the
basis of an occupant’s race is an “egregious” Fourth Amendment
CBP agents may search for noncitizens on “private lands, but
not dwellings” within 25 miles from the border. Thus, to enter a
home, CBP officers must still obtain a judicially issued search
warrant or the consent of the occupants.
Authority to Interrogate
CBP agents may “interrogate any alien or person believed to be
an alien as to his right to be or to remain in the United States.”
As a result, the government must show that “immigration officials believed a person was an alien before questioning him.”
When questioning a noncitizen about his right to be or remain in the
United States, CBP agents, like all law enforcement officers, cannot
threaten the person being questioned or deny him his legal rights … If
such coercion takes place, any statements obtained may be excluded in a
subsequent removal proceeding under the Due Process Clause of the
Authority to Arrest
For Immigration Offenses
CBP agents may arrest any noncitizen without a warrant who “in his
presence or view is entering or attempting to enter the United States
in violation of any law.”
CBP agents may arrest any noncitizen without a warrant whom they
have “reason to believe” (i.e. probable cause) is in the United States
in violation of law and is likely to escape before a warrant can be
For Non-Immigration Offenses
CBP agents may make arrests for any offense against the United
States committed in the presence of the officer, or for any felony the
officer has reasonable grounds to believe (i.e. probable cause) the
person to be arrested has committed.
To exercise this arrest authority, the CBP agent must be in the
course of duties related to the enforcement of the immigration laws and
must find there to be a likelihood that the person will escape before an
arrest warrant may be obtained."
Immigration Policy Center, Feb 23, 2012 | Download File