Saturday, September 11, 2010

10 Brief Responses To 700 Comments About Refusing To Answer Questions At Passport Control

Phuket Island, Thailand

My post about refusing to answer questions from Customs and Border Protection officers when re-entering the U.S. has resulted in a lot of debate. My thanks to everyone who joined the conversation, including the authors of the more than one hundred posts that called me a douchebag. Let me address the major points raised, although there are multiple issues – such as the fine distinction between CBP’s immigration powers and its customs powers – that I need to truncate or elide to keep this response from becoming a law review article.

(BTW, I’m blown away by the hubbub. In the last three days, this blog has received more than 75,000 hits. The original post currently has 175 comments, while the Boing Boing report has 172 comments, the Consumerist article 312 comments, and the Reason piece 121.) (Update: The Hacker News section of ycombinator currently has 104 comments.)

1. A U.S. Citizen Cannot Be Denied Re-Entry To Her Own Country.

A federal judge in Puerto Rico – a territory sensitive to the rights and privileges of its residents' U.S. citizenship -- said it best: "The only absolute and unqualified right of citizenship is to residence within the territorial boundaries of the United States; a citizen cannot be either deported or denied reentry." U.S. v. Valentine, 288 F. Supp. 957, 980 (D.P.R. 1968).

So, while some commenters worried – or advocated – that a citizen who refused to answer CBP questions would be denied re-entry to the United States, the U.S. government does not have the power to prevent a citizen’s re-entry.

2. (The Right To) Silence Is Golden.

This is principally about the right to silence. CBP officers are law enforcement (pictured), who can detain you, arrest you and testify against you in criminal court. You place yourself in jeopardy every time you speak to them about anything.

CBP officers are not your friends. CBP officers treat returning U.S. citizens as potential criminal defendants. You should likewise treat them as if they were corrupt cops on a power trip, targeting you to goose their arrest statistics. The best way to protect yourself against their depredations is to refuse to speak to them or to answer their questions.

3. Any Misstatement To A Federal Officer Can Result In Your Arrest.

If a federal officer claims you lied to him, you can be arrested and charged with the crime of making false statements. You do not have to make the statements under oath (which would be the different charge of perjury).

This statute – which is referred to as Section 1001 and which can be read here in all its prolix glory -- is the reason why Martha Stewart has a Bureau of Prisons number.

The only way to immunize yourself against a false statements charge is to refuse to speak to federal officers.

“Wait,” you ask, “what about telling the truth?” Doesn’t work. If, in the course of your conversation, you mis-remember something or speak inarticulately, you can now be arrested. Innocent mistake? Prove it in court after being jailed, charged, tried and paying for a lawyer.

Cardinal Richelieu is alleged to have said, “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.” That’s also how the false statement charge works. Any cop or prosecutor can concoct a “lie” from your statements.

The only way to protect yourself from a false statement charge is to refuse to speak to federal law enforcement officers.

4. “Business or Pleasure?” Is A Trap.

Which brings us to the reason why, contrary to the belief of many commenters, the seemingly innocuous CBP question of whether your international trip was for business or pleasure is a trap.

You say “business” (because you were at a conference) but the stamps in your passport indicate that you’re returning from a tourist destination like Bali. Now the officer can argue that you have made a false statement, have engaged in an attempt to claim improper business deductions under the Internal Revenue Code and have broken any other federal criminal law -- there are more than 10,000 -- which he can mold around the circumstances.

You and your travelling companion say “pleasure” but you’re returning from Antwerp, a city known for its diamond trade not its nightlife. Liars and smugglers! And, with two people involved, the feds can levy conspiracy and aiding and abetting charges.

[Clarification: I'm not saying these charges would stick. I'm saying they can be concocted because of purported inconsistencies in your story. My point is that the officer acting in bad faith wouldn't have that ammunition if you invoked your right to silence.]

Answering the question also immediately opens you up to more questions, which can lead to more chances for the feds to claim that you said something suspicious, inconsistent or false.

(In addition, and this is very much a lawyer’s objection, the question requests a legal conclusion. I have no idea how many federal laws create a distinction between business and pleasure travel or what standards are used. It's not my call.)

5. Politeness Would Make No Difference.

Many of the commenters took issue with my rude tone toward the CBP officers. This criticism is profoundly misguided.

To the authoritarian mind, there are only two responses to a demand: submission or defiance, and anything less than total submission is defiance. A Lutheran grandmother from Savannah with manners from an antebellum finishing school would be hassled if she refused to answer CBP’s questions.

Answering with a tart “None of your business” underscores that I will not be pushed around and – potentially important from a criminal procedure perspective – is an unambiguous statement that I am not waiving any rights. It is a line in the linoleum.

Further, why is politeness a one-way street? Many commenters relayed stories about rude, abusive, mean and intrusive CBP officers. The entire cop ethos is based on intimidation and domination. We should be able to give the officers a little of their own medicine, and, if they’re as tough as they claim, they can take it.

6. There Is A Profound Difference Between A U.S. Citizen Entering a Foreign Country and a U.S. Citizen Re-Entering Her Own Country.

Multiple commenters confuse or conflate the distinction between a U.S. citizen entering a foreign country (where she can be refused entry for any reason or no reason) and a U.S. citizen returning to the U.S. (where she cannot, as noted in Item No. 1, be denied entrance). These are completely different situations with almost no overlap in terms of governing law, procedures, rights, anything.

That being said – and this is a point several commenters made – entering the U.S. is a cruder experience than entering most other countries. Although I enter China multiple times a year, I have never been asked a question by an immigration or customs officer. When I have entered Thailand without a visa, the officer’s questions have been limited to the duration of my visit (to make sure I am within the Kingdom’s visa waiver rules). Once, a German immigration officer wanted to know my plans, and that interview was polite and three questions long. And, in my reading of travel blogs, the U.S., Canada and Great Britain are the three countries consistently mentioned for their overreaching border officers.

Even adjusting for the fact that a citizen has more interactions with the officers of his own country (and therefore more likely to have a bad encounter), U.S. border officers have a needlessly hostile view of the citizens who, on paper, they serve.

7. “Just Doing My Job” Is Bunk.

Many of the commenters are obviously CBP officers or shills – the repeated references to how CBP officers are underpaid is a tell – and they chant the mantra that the officers on the desks are front-line personnel merely carrying out policy.

I will resist the temptation to pull a Godwin and will merely respond, I don’t care. When a person accepts and keeps a job which involves pressuring and tricking citizens into waiving their rights of privacy and silence (while refusing to admit that the citizens possess those rights), the person has to deal with attitude on the incredibly rare occasion when someone exercises their rights.

You made your choice, officers. Don't whine when someone points out the legally and morally dubious nature of the job you voluntarily accepted, remain at and could quit at any time.

8. The Other People In Line.

This is a bright red herring. To the extent any immigration or customs line is being slowed down by a citizen refusing to answer questions, it’s because the CBP officer refuses to accept the fact that the citizen is lawfully exercising her rights (as several commenters noted).

As a practical matter, there’s almost no hold up. When a citizen refuses to answer questions at the first CBP kiosk, she is ordered to secondary within a minute or two. The wait is less than it might be if a returning citizen submitted to questioning or had a complicated, multi-national family situation.

In addition, living in a free country means that sometimes you are inconvenienced by others’ assertions of their rights. On occasion, you have to see advertisements for products you think are disgusting, have your morning commute hampered by a strike, or have to drive half a mile out of your way because of the GLBT parade.

Perhaps I or a like-minded person made your stay in the airport four minutes longer. You’ll live.

9. Small, Successful Battles Can Prevent Large, Losing Battles.

When it comes to rights, you don’t know in advance what battle will be important. But you do know, based on history and human nature, that a right undefended will shrivel and die. If you don’t fight for the small right, you won’t be in a position to assert the large right.

Moreover, the existence of the right of privacy is usually based on whether people have a current expectation of privacy in a certain situation. To the extent that people decline to assert their right of privacy, it slips away. Lack of vigilance by citizens begets more government power.

10. Travellers Who Have Presented Proof of U.S. Citizenship Should Not Be Detained For Refusing To Answer Questions.

That’s what this is all about. Once a traveler has provided bona fide proof of U.S. citizenship, he or she is entitled to re-enter the country. CBP should not be asking questions as a matter of course, and, if citizens assert the right to silence, CBP should not be detaining them.

Update: Two commenters mentioned that the original photo was of the Border Patrol, not CBP, so I've substituted a photo of CBP officers training to arrest someone.

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Blogger Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

You sir, are my new hero.

11:54 PM  
Blogger Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Plus I need to thank you for turning me onto St. Etienne.

11:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should link this article from your old one with a noticeable block of text at the top so more readers get to see this one too.

As much popularity as the first article gathered, this one will go unread by 98% of your new visitors, which are largely the audience you're writing for here.

12:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well said. I can tell you from personal experience that answering their questions and telling the truth will get you know where with cops and feds alike.

1:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your well-written wisdom.

I did not myself think of the implications that these seemingly innocent questions have on the larger picture.

Because of your post I too will tell them, "None of your business."

1:39 AM  
Anonymous Treat People like People said...

You're making more than one man's share or assertions and slippery slopes.

And as for being polite, it absolutely makes a difference. Whether or not you're still hassled by CBP (again, watch your step on that slipper slope, chicken little), you're still being a decent member of society.

You can't criticize the authoritarian attitude of the CBP officials you've encountered while still purposefully saying "None of your business" to make a point that you have a right to be a prick.

At the end of the day, that CBP officer is still a person, and should be treated like a person, with no expectation for any reciprocity.

1:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry you had an annoying experience with the CBP folks. My own experiences with CBP has been uneventful.

2:15 AM  
Anonymous Ian said...

Paul - the more people who don't understand why your actions are heroic, the more I feel worried about this countries future.

2:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems like the author is on a little power trip, and somewhat un-American. Plus it's kind of silly to waste that much of your time to prove a point no one cares about.

2:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand your points, but I think you are overreacting. You are immediately assuming that everyone is out to get you. If you would have answered their question, I don't think they would have started a court case against you or anything. Despite people saying that America is turning into fascism or some other nonsense, is simply not true.

3:17 AM  
Blogger Ubu Walker said...

No one questions that you have Fifth Amendment rights at a border if you are detained.

However, federal courts have ruled that questioning at the border does not violate your constitutional right to remain silent and does not trigger a Miranda warning.

Furthermore, since you were simply being asked routine questions for entry, you are not considered to be in custody; therefore, the 5th Amendment does not apply. [Of course, once they denied you entry and detained you, you were in custody, and could continue to refuse to answer questions.]

I find it bizarre that you would choose to vindicate your 5th Amendment right not to incriminate yourself, but expose yourself to the border search exception of the 4th Amendment and let your your body and personal belongings be searched based on your refusal to answer these questions.

So even if you are technically correct that "once a traveler has provided bona fide proof of U.S. citizenship, he or she is entitled to re-enter the country," a travelers belongings are not.

3:18 AM  
Anonymous Stephen Veit said...

@Anonymous: replying "None of your business" is not rude, it is a statement of fact.

@Anonymous: The author is not on a power trip, the CBP officers are. To stand up for your God-given rights (such as the right to privacy) is absolutely American. Men fought and died for this principle in founding America. The author is not being silly to be silent in order to protect himself from possible prosecution (see point 3.)

To the author: Thank you for your posts. They remind me of the need to continually protect my rights. I will now be prepared when dealing with CBP when I travel abroad.

3:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not often my mind is changed on a subject, but you've managed to change mine. Extremely well-written response. I'm impressed by the even-handedness of your post, as well.

3:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Do you suffer from such paranoia in all your endeavors or just when re-entering the country?

To spin a simple answer to an innocuous question from people charged with securing our border into a potential federal court case is beyond neurotic.

You're either clinically paranoid or just a drama queen. Answer "business" or "pleasure" and move on. It's not that hard. No one is going to take you to court over your answer.


3:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with the above. Complete and utter over-reaction. You make the assumption that all verifiable citizens of your country are of pure intent. Perhaps a US citizen travels over seas for training from a terrorist group then returns and refuses to answer any questions. Perhaps they don't have the best intentions for that information. Once they exploit that situation a couple of times the government then changes the laws so you can be denied access for refusal to answer questions. Sometimes there are greater goods that come out of not being a nit picky 'these are my rights, don't inconvenience me' moron.

3:47 AM  
Blogger Monabona said...

Thank you so much for this primer on rights It brings up many of the points from the lecture of the law prof from the ultra-conservative Regent University along with his associate, a former cop, about why one should never speak to the police without a lawyer.

These days it is naive to think that if you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear from law enforcement, customs and TSA agents, etc. Watch the video for you own protection, especially if you cannot imagine that such things might happen to you.

3:53 AM  
Blogger Tyr said...

I'll have you know Antwerp is known far and wide for its nightlife especially in the gay scene.

4:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paranoid? I recommend everyone watch part 1 and 2 of "don't talk to cops"'t+talk+to+cops&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en&client=safari

4:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Still a douchebag

5:22 AM  
Blogger Rakkhi said...

Just awesome, hope your travel in future is without incident.

I thought it was ridiculous that even in transit where you are actually not entering the US customs fingerprint all your fingers.

I was very very tempted to refuse but in the end I was too scared that I would just miss my trip

5:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is neither bizarre nor neurotic for the author to be upset over the actions of the CBP officers in his case. He exercised his right to not answer their questions, and they detained him for doing so. I find that rather frightening. I don't see why someone would be considered an idiot for standing up for their rights. Also, NO question asked by a Customs Agent (or any other Federal Agent, for that matter) is innocuous. They may be fellow human beings, but they are not your friends.

5:48 AM  
Blogger Cian said...

Thank you for this post as well as the previous. It's refreshing and uplifting to hear that some U.S. citizens, like yourself, are fighting for your rights - however small the fight may be.

5:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a paranoid asshole...

these offices have a tough job of protecting your f ass from all kind of shit trying to enter to US. they have zero interest in taking you to jail or claiming that you lied.
give them some respect and be honest and you will have zero problems with entering US(doing this every couple month).

if you so paranoid, please take your pills and dont get out of you house as any women can claim you are raping her, cops will say you are speeding and then noticed a gun...

6:03 AM  
Anonymous Sean said...

On a day when so many are self-righteously wrapping themselves in the flag, this article is what true patriotism is all about. Thank you so much for standing up for freedom.

6:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your level of paranoia is demonstrated by your assertion that many disagreeing with you are either shills for CBP officers or CBP officers themselves. Just so you know, I disagree with you because I think your attitude is silly and rude--not because I have anything to do with CBP.

Like millions of Americans, I answer "business" or "pleasure" and move on. I have never been hassled about it, nor do I know anyone who has. It makes the transaction pleasant and efficient. Imagine if everyone acted as you do.

6:36 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Wow, the trolls are really out in force for this, aren't they? Good on you for standing up for liberty, you un-American, paranoid, chicken-little, power-tripping, beyond-neurotic, idiotic drama queen, you!

Anybody who doesn't understand why you're doing this has never re-entered the United States anyway, and thus has no idea what they're talking about.

6:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say, the immigration officer in Thailand almost made me cry. It was my first stop on a "trying to be spontaneous" trip. He said I would be murdered since I had no hotel reservation and wouldn't let me in until I decided on a hotel. This was the second time I got a lot of attention and harassment for travelling as a single woman(the other time in Portugal, where they wanted hostel and bus receipts!).

I'm glad someone has the energy to will harass back.

6:54 AM  
Blogger The Turquoise Peacock said...

The fact that the American people are not troubled by the slow encroachment on our right to privacy, is not only troubling, but also telling.

The government has just recently decided that police officers can put tracking devices on your car (while it is in your driveway) without a warrant!

The people who don't understand the necessity of standing up for our right to privacy, probably do not understand the history of our nation nor the reasons that the Founding Fathers felt so strongly about our rights.

I think that we need to be educating our children about the importance of expecting, and even demanding, our rights. We encourage the slow indoctrination of our children with lies like "All people in authority are good and should be obeyed" and "Policemen are your friends."

This country is beginning to reek of weakness and ignorance. If we paid attention to history, we might see some strong correlations between our nation now and Nazi Germany.

I know there will probably be a lot of people who take offense to this, but I think that only shows how ignorant most people are about the history of oppressive government.

Ignorance may be bliss for a time, but it unerringly leads to misery, and in this case, loss of our hard earned right to privacy.

6:58 AM  
Anonymous Enoch Drebber said...

Lukacs' statement "none of your business" contradicts point number four because that statement is a legal conclusion and opened him up to more questioning.

I believe the correct response is "No statement". Additionally, remaining silent opens you up to the officer claiming you are impaired. Lukacs should have replied to every unauthorized request with "No statement".

7:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are awesome,

8:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those who would give up their rights for perceived safety deserve neither.

9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paranoid, and "it's a simple question, answer and move on"?? Do you guys have any idea of what's going on these days in this country?

I personally know multiple people and have read news stories about multiple more who were detained for months and never brought to trial and then released without so much as an apology. What are the charges they were initially detained on? Lying to a federal officer, etc. exactly the trap mentioned in the post.

If you aren't willing to stand up and demand your rights, you don't deserve them, and eventually you won't have them (as history has shown).

9:43 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

"Perhaps a US citizen travels over seas for training from a terrorist group then returns and refuses to answer any questions."

Or perhaps, not wanting to call undue attention to him/herself, that citizen simply lies? Because - and you might want to be sitting down for this - ciminals lie. Terrorists lie. "Bad guys" lie. And asking a pointless question like "business or pleasure" will do nothing to weed out people like that. All it does is give law-abiding citizens another meaningless hoop to jump through before they can go about their own private business in their own damn country.

9:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding your point #1. They may not legally stop you from entering the country, but them may stop you from trying to do so (by stopping you at your point of origin).
Consider this case, for example:

And then this one:

Hats off to you for standing up for your rides. Sadly, 99.99% of the people are too weak to do so.

9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Paul, as another person already noted you need to merge this Q&A into your original article. Otherwise it is too easy to miss. I missed it myself. I was very intent on reading everything you wrote, and I read lots of the comments, but I didn't realize I missed your followup until it was mentioned on Hackernews. How can I possibly miss it if you have a link to this article right at the top you ask? Well, for one thing, the link doesn't look like a link (at least in my browser), and second, I presumed that the four points that you list as the "Principal Take Away" was the followup. PS: We need more people with your courage to demand our liberty and privacy!

10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read both blogs and back your "fight". In the UK, may be a different story, would love to find out.

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"since you were simply being asked routine questions for entry, you are not considered to be in custody"

Instead of responding to whatever question they ask first, ask one yourself: "Am I free to go?" When the answer is "no", then you're in custody & your 5A rights are in full play.

11:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like it if a Canadian, preferably a lawyer, could provide an equivalent rundown on rights, because my experiences in lawfully returning to Canada have ranged from merely rude to ridiculously invasive... and I don't know my legal standing when placed in the same situation as Paul's.

12:01 PM  
Anonymous Vincent said...

You ever hear the comedian Patrice O'Neil on topics like this? He totally believes that you shouldn't have to submit. You're posts made me think about what he says a lot. You make a lot of valid points. If you don't have to do it and you are an honest person, why do it just to submit to a false authority?

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paraphrased: if you disagree with me you're not as smart as me! Neener neener neener! No! No! Not listening!


2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So I'm wondering if CBP is going to make any statements about this, or if they're going to be cowards about it.

We all know they're paying attention, the only question really is how gutless they will be about the issue.

When I say they're paying attention, I mean literally. I am quite certain they are monitoring your site. So the question is, will the act like Stasi, or will they act like representatives of a nation that is supposed to be an open society and better than that?

Somehow I doubt they have the courage to represent American values the way they should be.

2:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Note: The below is from the CBP's web site. This is its official position and clearly they believe CBP has legal right to question a traveler and this is supported by the Supreme Court.

What gives Customs and Border Protection (CBP) the authority to ask me personal questions and to examine my belongings?

To keep our borders secure, we must inspect everyone who arrives at a U.S. port of entry. We pledge to treat you courteously and professionally. We do not assume that you have done anything wrong - because very few travelers actually violate the law. As part of your inspection, you may be asked questions on:

· Your citizenship,

· The nature of your trip, and

· Anything you are bringing back to the United States that you did not have with you when you left.

We may also examine your baggage, including electronic equipment, or your car, which we have the legal authority to do. If we are checking your baggage, you will need to place it on the exam station and open it. (After the exam is completed, you will be asked to repack and close the baggage.) If at any point you are unhappy with the way you are being treated, ask to speak to a CBP supervisor.

The authority to delay and speak with travelers derives from the United States Code (section citations below) enables CBP to prevent the entry of persons who are inadmissible under the Immigration and Nationality Act, and to prevent the smuggling of merchandise, including narcotics and other contraband items, into the United States.

Speaking with travelers and examining merchandise coming into or leaving the United States are some of the ways we look for illegal or prohibited items, and to determine whether or not someone is trying to enter the U.S. for unlawful or fraudulent purposes. Unless exempt by diplomatic status, all travelers entering the United States, including U.S. citizens, participate in routine Customs processing. At times, people make the mistake of thinking their civil rights are being violated by being asked questions about their trip, personal background and history, etc. That is not the case. Supreme Court decisions have upheld the doctrine that CBP's search authority is unique and does not violate the fourth amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

However, with this authority, CBP expects all of its officers to conduct their duties in a professional manner, and treat each traveler respectfully.

The exact legal citation for our search authority can be found in Title 19 of the United States Code, Sections 482, 1467, 1496, 1581 and 1582. For further information, please see CBP Search Authority under the Travel section of this Web site.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Note: The below is from the CBP's web site. This is its official position. I have edited to fit.

What gives Customs and Border Protection (CBP) the authority to ask me personal questions and to examine my belongings?

To keep our borders secure, we must inspect everyone who arrives at a U.S. port of entry. We pledge to treat you courteously and professionally. We do not assume that you have done anything wrong - because very few travelers actually violate the law. As part of your inspection, you may be asked questions on:

· Your citizenship,

· The nature of your trip, and

· Anything you are bringing back to the United States that you did not have with you when you left.

We may also examine your baggage, including electronic equipment, or your car, which we have the legal authority to do. ...

The authority to delay and speak with travelers derives from the United States Code (section citations below) enables CBP to prevent the entry of persons who are inadmissible under the Immigration and Nationality Act, and to prevent the smuggling of merchandise, including narcotics and other contraband items, into the United States.

...Unless exempt by diplomatic status, all travelers entering the United States, including U.S. citizens, participate in routine Customs processing. At times, people make the mistake of thinking their civil rights are being violated by being asked questions about their trip, personal background and history, etc. That is not the case. Supreme Court decisions have upheld the doctrine that CBP's search authority is unique and does not violate the fourth amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.


The exact legal citation for our search authority can be found in Title 19 of the United States Code, Sections 482, 1467, 1496, 1581 and 1582. For further information, please see CBP Search Authority under the Travel section of this Web site.

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you for this article, and for your brave actions in strengthening mine and everyone's rights.

3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WONDERFUL article. After reading this I am inspired to test my newly-discovered rights (in fact I will be re-entering the states in a couple weeks), but I have concerns over the very trivial issue of my connecting flight. All they have to do is detain me for 30-60min and I've missed my connection and I'm screwed. And to be put on some watch list where I'll probably be harassed in perpetuity? I once had Canadian customs go through all my shit at a land crossing. The whole bus had to wait maybe 45min for them to go through all my stuff. I don't know if it's worth it.

4:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Further, why is politeness a one-way street? Many commenters relayed stories about rude, abusive, mean and intrusive CBP officers. The entire cop ethos is based on intimidation and domination. We should be able to give the officers a little of their own medicine, and, if they’re as tough as they claim, they can take it."

'He started it' didn't work when you were seven (at least, if your parents raised you right) and it doesn't work now. Your moral standards exist no matter who you're dealing with. Either you're obligated to treat other people politely barring their specific rudeness towards you, or you're not. You had no way of knowing if the person you spoke to would turn out to be a rude police officer, or if you were 'punishing' her for the behavior of others.

So clearly, you don't feel that you need to treat people with some baseline of politeness. Which says douchebag to me. I guess that makes this #101.

5:08 PM  
Blogger Bilious said...

This, and its predecessor, are a great couple of arguments which I read with immense pleasure - not at your predicament but in the clear, patient and concise way your framed your argument and your response to the comments. While - in Ireland - we are largely free of such intrusions on the citizenship for which we pay taxes and perform other duties, I think it is vital to hold the 'small rights' dear lest the 'big rights' be taken also. Thank you for these articles.

7:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On behalf of the submissive 99% of all sheeple, I thank you for your efforts in preserving what little rights we have :)

Also, I think your comments on the issues raised by readers made sense.

The whole world is turning into police states, with the US, UK and Australia leading the way.

We live in crazy times, but on the other hand, times have always been crazy.

9:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I spend a lot of time in Mexico. The only place I routinely encounter rudeness is the border of the US, when I cross the bridge

Anonymous age 68

9:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The points you make are relevant and the subject matter very pertinent to the current social and political climate. You, sir, are a god among men.

Or at least a man among men who wears a big, pope-like hat, which is almost as good. Keep up the good work!

10:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand how someone can say that saying 'That's none of your business' is rude, when they are asking a question that IS none of their business. If even a third of people refused to answer these questions, I bet the questions would stop. Not only would we have less intrusion, but the process would speed up.

11:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No matter how hard you attempt to justify your actions, you're still a dickhead.

12:43 AM  
Blogger cpietran said...

I like the article as I did the previous one. However, the photo at the top is sadly misleading in one major way.

That is a female wearing a BORDER PATROL uniform, not a CBP (Customs and Border Protection uniform. Border Patrol do NOT (ever) work at Ports of entry such as described by the author and are a subdivision of a larger organization that is also CBP.

It is a bit nit-picky of me, I suppose, but being that I spent 23 years abusing civil rights in a completely different way, I want to clarify the photograph used as bolstering the author's arguments.

Hopefully a correct photo can be substituted.

12:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am frankly surprised that no one has suggested answering the CBP, "I'm sorry sir (or ma'am) but I am not going to answer that question." You may even preface it with "With all due respect, officer..." Say it with respect instead of the rude "None of your business." which the author did.

Wouldn't the first respectful response above still have the effect of asserting your rights?

2:30 AM  
OpenID sober-irish-guy said...

I'm pretty far outside this (since I live in Ireland), and I accept that you can say nothing and that's about it, but I don't think "Once a traveler has provided bona fide proof of U.S. citizenship, he or she is entitled to re-enter the country." is the end of it.
The questions are supposedly a screening process, just like the x-ray and metal detector. You're fully allowed to not answer them, but they can still take action if they feel you are being suspicious (such as, not answering questions like everyone else). They can't refuse entry, and unless they search and find something you didn't declare they can't do anything else.
I can't say anything bad since you just followed your rights (although I do think you could have been a little more polite, even if it wouldn't make a difference). If this becomes a trend... well, I guess the non-citizen line will be moving slower when I get to LA again.

4:20 AM  
Blogger Chuck Lavazzi said...

I think one of the reasons this topic has gotten so many hits is that your original post has gone viral. It has been popping up on Facebook pages, where it has provoked some interesting discussions, to say the least. I'm planning to post the "10 Brief Responses" to my own FB profile as soon as I finish this.

In an interesting bit of timing, this week's "This American Life" episode was about the right to remain silent, and what happened to some people who didn't. Pretty chilling stuff.

4:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you not make a distinction between what you have a 'right' to do, and what you 'should' do? Look at it this way, if your argument was repackaged and used to defend, say, a teabaggers right to go to an Obama whistlestop with a firearm on his that a good idea even if he's TECHNICALLY within his rights to do so? Either way, messages are sent...and that message is basically a "fuck you", just as sure as yours was, if you're being honest. And as far as politeness being irrelevant goes, how do you think these asshole cops justify their behavior? "I deal with the scum of society all day long...etc, etc, so EXCUSE ME if I'm a humorless dick to you." It's this spiraling game of shitty-attitude chicken, and your behavior in this situation isn't helping the bigger picture.

4:58 AM  
Anonymous Treat People like People said...

I've gotta hand it to you for approving so many comments for and against your points. Not everyone would be so open.

7:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One question - you mention the risk of prosecution for lying to a federal officer that one invites when answering CBP questions. Given the searchable record of such refusal, however, are you worried that your refusal to answer their questions has "put you on their radar" in such a way that makes them more likely to prosecute you for a different reason? As you mention, there are thousands of laws, and most of us break at least one during each trip across the boarder.

Put another way, what do you think brings about greater personal risk of prosecution -- answering their questions or annoying them?

8:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


9:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. My question... As I understand it, the US Constitution covers both citizens and resident aliens. As a resident alien, would I be able to invoke the same right after showing my Green Card?

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reason you are a douche is not because what you are doing is's because you're doing it in a way that is annoying to many and of little to no benefit to yourself. Another is because you come across as incredibly self centered as you obviously couldn't care less about wasting other people's time.

If you really believe this is worth fighting for then do it in an appropriate forum. Start a civil liberties group. Go lobbying. Run for office yourself. If you feel you've been damaged take it to court. Do something that may cause a real change.

Stop being annoying and wasting everyone's time at the airport.

12:26 PM  
Blogger William said...

Keep doing what you're doing, ignore the naysayers. They haven't a clue what liberty is. If you find yourself by yourself in this fight, join us in NH.

"Look at it this way, if your argument was repackaged and used to defend, say, a teabaggers right to go to an Obama whistlestop with a firearm on his that a good idea even if he's TECHNICALLY within his rights to do so?"

Why yes, it's a great idea.

-- William Kostric

1:12 PM  
Blogger Phillip said...

Excellent article!

3:44 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

A pair of cracking good posts!
The final post being the clearest.

But have people out here noted the negative replies and categorised them?

1: Some dimwit arsehole is upset so calls you a douchebag. They can take me on instead because I'm one seriously repressed motherfuck with tourettes.

2: They failed to read the post so their argument fell on its face before the sentence was completed. You have already covered it and most succinctly.

3: Cut 'n Paster did not read the middle part which very clearly defines the person as a departee not someone who has arrived back home to the USA. Their travel has ended. The only possible crime in progress could be importation based.

4: Assuming what you say is harmless. Contracting verbally at the end of the day has in some cases killed millions! For instance. Everyone knows Hitler mentioned the final solution. Do we know for a fact it was the actual order to kill all slaved civilians. Did those who murdered them read Hitler correctly?
Everyone in prison for some act that caused no harm or loss to anybody has, in some way befallen themselves to giving permission to go to be fined and or go to prison. Check out "Creditors in Commerce" or others like "freedom rebellion" or "TPUC" UK sites.

6:29 PM  
Blogger Ahow said...

I struggle with this so much. I want to assert my rights to refuse to answer questions, unfortunately, my wife is Canadian and my refusal could lead to major complication for her. Hopefully she will move from Green Card to citizen status in the future.

9:23 PM  
OpenID Nomen Nescio said...

@anonymous, 2:30 AM: phrasing substantially the same answer in more respectful terms would use more words, but not materially change the outcome; one would still be treated the exact same way, and probably just as rudely.

@anonymous, 4:58 AM: if one consistently restricts oneself to doing only what one is supposed to do, as opposed to doing all one is allowed to do, it is but a matter of time before one is no longer allowed to do anything one is not supposed to do. this is how civil rights are lost, as others have alluded to --- rights that are not exercised do indeed wither and die.

@anonymous, 10:14 AM: answering your question properly would take an immigration lawyer's professional advice, i'm afraid. i am not such a lawyer, but i suspect the best you could hope for would be down the lines of "in theory you have the same rights, but you'd be singled out for such excess scrutiny as to put your green card in jeopardy".

9:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can understand that you feel you need to defend your rights as a citizen. I can see some of the merit of your points rationalizing this behavior. However, it's time to step back into the real world.

You are talking about making a principled stand against some poor schlob making just over minimum wage standing for 3 hours at a time and searching people's bags. One could argue that the compensation for such work is less than someone with a good education and better options would strive for. So, you could deduce that those in that position are there because they are either stuck at that level of employment, due to education or mental acuteness, or they are getting some other kind of non-monetary compensation that makes it worth their while, for example, the power to have anyone from their line detained and investigated by federal agents, regardless of that person's actual or perceived rights.

If that customs agent, that's underpaid, most likely under-educated, overworked, and, more often than not, with lower-than-average mental acumen, wants to make trouble for you, they will. Your rights wont help you immediately. You pull this show out what, once a month, tops. They do this every day. No matter how well-argued your statements are, they know how to game the system against you, because they've seen it done, intentionally or accidentally, every single day. Standing up and, in their view, being a douche about it is just going to make it worse. Possibly because they don't understand your arguements, possibly because they just want to go on break, or maybe because they're there for the power trip they get.

Either way, you're just making trouble for everyone, including yourself, and you're painting a huge target on your back.

We all know about "that part of town", where you would never leave your car parked over night. The intelligent among us just never park our cars there. We don't make trouble, we just do like everyone else -- don't park your Lexus in the ghetto, and answer custom agents innocuous questions. You seem to be parking your car in the ghetto, just so you can piss and moan to anyone who listens when the wheels do eventually get stolen. And it will happen. One day, you'll find a customs agent, and his investigator-in-the-back-room friend both are tired of your crap, and you'll really be in trouble, even if it is against the law.

10:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

IANAL, but that US v Valentine case looks more like a voting rights case than a citizenship / immigration case. You're quoting dicta.

10:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have done an EXCEPTIONAL PUBLIC SERVICE. Day-by-day, Americans are insiduously loosing the very liberties our country was founded upon.

Thank you!!!!

10:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has anyone else noticed that without exception all the negative comments are riddled with logical fallacies, especially ad hominem and straw man arguments, and are loaded with emotion, while most of the positive comments are calmly and logically presented?

Makes you think, doesn't it?

10:43 PM  
Anonymous Braaghs said...

What I'm curious about, is whether CBP can allow you to reenter the States, but just escort you to jail instead of letting you go free? I guess, in essence, my question relates to the CBPs definition of reentry.

10:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a US citizen living in the UK, married to an English man. Last year I went home for a yearly visit and entered on my American passport. I was asked where i was coming from and what i was doing there. I said I lived in England. I was asked how long I planned to stay in the USA! That is one question I should not have been asked, as a citizen I have a right to live in my country of birth. I had never had that question asked before and feel that it shouldn't have been asked in the first place.

Thank you for the information in your article, I will use it if I have to, I hope I don't, but it's nice to know that I can use my right to remain silent.

11:03 PM  
Anonymous frank1569 said...

It's not just airports, baby.

Dallas PD pulls me over WHILE WALKING HOME from the grocery store, bags in hand. Literally power-drifting their cruisers just like on the TV.

2 cops jump out, hands on holsters: 'Hold it. Where are you going!?'

'Anywhere I want.'

'What are you doing!?'

'What the f**k does it look like I'm doing assholes?'

That did not go over well.

'Let's see some ID.'

'I don't have any ID.'

'What do you mean?'

'I mean this is America. I do not have to show you z papers.'

From there, I was threatened with arrest for failure to produce ID when ordered by law enforcement, obstructing justice, and - I swear - my 'bad attitude.'

After 20 minutes of my non-compliance, they finally gave up and told me to 'watch my mouth.'

I sent them off with a 'try reading the Constitution once in a while.'

11:22 PM  
Anonymous ParatrooperJJ said...

Sever things to keep in mind. First, the picture in this post is of a Border Patrol Agent, not a Customs and Border Protection Officer. This should be corrected.
Second, remember that CBP can request the Department of State to pull your passport at any time. Issuance of a passport is a privilege not a right. Third, you are now probably on the secondary screening list for TSA and CBP. They can and most likely will require a full body cavity search any time you reenter the country. And lastly you win more flies with honey then vinegar. You may win in the end but they will fuck you hard.

11:36 PM  
Anonymous Giri said...

While I agree with your point of view on your rights, I disagree on your assertion that these questions and procedures at Passport Control and Customs are unduly founded.

Just like handgun laws are not written to curtail the use of guns by the law-abiding citizen, these questions are not designed to find out what Johny Handsome did on his honeymoon trip abroad. The questions serve to help the officers screen and filter the honest traveler from the one who would do harm upon you and the liberties you obviously cherish.

As you astutely point out, these are LAW ENFORCEMENT officers, who are enforcing laws. They cannot not ascertain what laws are being broken by just looking at you, they must first ask some questions. If they find no reasonable cause to detain you any longer, they send you on your way; if they feel that others' safety could be compromised by your actions (inadvertent or not), then they dig a little deeper.

The vast majority of these officers are there because they believe in what they do, and they want to help keep this country safe... No different than a firefighter, cop, Marine, or Coast Guard officer. Granted they let the power get to their heads sometimes, but that doesn't give us carte blanche to use the letter of the law to make their jobs more difficult.

Lastly, you make it seem like being a U.S. Citizen automatically means that a person CANNOT be up to no good. That all Citizens are law-abiding and coming into the country for nothing but altruistic reasons. Hello! Do you not understand that even Citizens traffic drugs, arms, children, women, and terror? Yes, let's give everyone a free pass simply because they have a U.S. Passport and because the 3 simple questions that returning travelers are routinely asked hurt your sensibilities. Psh!

11:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh my god, I can't believe the responses to this story. You have rights but you don't want to exercise them and you want to pick a part his attitude or belief system.

Look if you don't want those rights as citizens then move to a country where you don't have any rights. How pathetic to have fought for such great laws only to think they are not needed. Warning: For those who don't exercise, will soon get fat. Exercise your rights!

12:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One point of note: the basis of your entire argument is NOT law. It is the decision of a Judge for the Federal Circuit of Puerto Rico. In every other Circuit, the decisions of another Circuit are NOT binding but rather persuasive. To hold this out as law is wrong and dangerous. If you have a better source, show us but if someone gets in real trouble because another Circuit does not interpret things the same way as in Puerto Rico, it would seem like you maybe practicing law without a license (based upon you giving legal advice).

12:17 AM  
Anonymous Schop said...

I agree with some of he above seem to overreact a little. Because anybody asking you these questions will immediately think: 'What in the hell did this guy do in China that is so secretive?', and that is not the officer's fault, it's yours. You can explain in global terms what you did there (business, pleasure, you don't have to go in detail) without telling lies or accidentally telling a lie. I think you need to grow up and move on.

12:23 AM  
Blogger Clark said...

I frequently drive from Michigan through Canada to New York, having not stopped in Canada. If, upon reentering the US in NY, I decide to follow the letter of the law and refuse to answer questions, can't CBP do the same?

Can't they make up some suspicion that I have 10 lbs of coke hidden in my car? Can't they make me sit there for hours while taking my car apart? Can't they say, "ok, you're free to go" even though I have no idea how to reassemble my car?

I agree that it is important not to feel intimidated by CBP. I wish I wasn't. But, can't they make my life a lot harder than I can make theirs?

1:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Discussing what you believe the law is, or should be, is not "giving legal advice." Even if it is, free speech allows us to freely speak without wondering whether what we say is illegal. Unless we make a "true threat," there is nothing illegal about a non-lawyer discussing the law. Under anonymous's theory, he is breaking the law himself by telling people they are practicing law without a license. Everyone who comments should apparently be prosecuted because making arguments against a legal proposition is no different than making arguments for a proposition of law, when lawyers are "practicing law."

1:26 AM  
Anonymous Dave S said...

You are really an annoying person.

1:36 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Great set of responses and very interesting blog in general. THANK YOU for sharing!

2:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have an interesting line of reasoning which I intuitively agree with. Can you source some of these points legally so that I may read the appropriate law passages? Specifically, the right to not answer?

2:11 AM  
Blogger Jason Schultze said...

I agree with Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein.

Though I have to disagree based upon a personal experience the statement about entering Canada. Entering the U.S. was a royal pain that took about three hours to clear up. Returning to Canada required no more than the border guard asking if we were Canadian and us replying "yes".

2:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish more people would learn the difference between "citizen" and "subject". So many of the negative commenters seem perfectly happy being subjects.


2:51 AM  
Anonymous Jordan said...

Assume all law enforcement officers are out to get you, got it. This will be great for my blood pressure.

3:09 AM  
Anonymous Thoren said...

Yes, shut up, slave. Answer our questions, slave. Get in line, slave. Sit on the chair, slave!

Good work, you are a true patriot.

In the Morning

No Agenda Show podcast

3:24 AM  
Blogger Flo said...

You are no Douchebag sir, and this is the same stance I take when ever I must interact with any LEO. Civil Liberties have a posse.

3:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While Martha got hit for false statements (and I know others who have as well) US Attorney's are careful to not use it whenever someone has been vague, inarticulate, forgetful or even outright deceitful. The cases I have seen involved active criminal investigations on high priority matters (national security, white collar crime, organized crime) wherein a substantive witness (1) agrees to answer questions and (2) provably attempts to misdirect the investigation. At that moment, the People suffer substantive harm (assuming our servants who conduct the investigation are acting earnestly) because of the resources wasted and sometimes the "time bought" for a perpetrator.

Martha got "Martha'd" precisely for this reason.

US Attorney's have an incentive to be careful in bringing such prosecutions - they could lose the tool. Constitutional challenges are always based on settled facts from actual, appealed cases which raise the constitutional question. If you create the set of abusive facts that demonstrate the unconstitutional application of a law, you give Justices the ability (and invitation) to eviscerate said law.

I respect the author's intent, convictions and courage (and actually agree that rights not asserted tend to whither) and am actually glad he budgets the time to do this. I just think it would be careless to foster an abject fear that cops and prosecutors routinely and culturally collude to go "perp fishing" with every interaction with the public, thereby stripping investigators of a cooperative public. (rereading that, I want to make clear that I don't think that is the intent here, but is an effect shown in some of the comments)

There are countries where the police are held in such low regard where investigations go nowhere. Part of our largely lawful society relies on the goodwill between the public and law enforcement (something senior CBP officers who read this may want to keep in mind when training personnel on public interactions).

3:57 AM  
Blogger Joshua said...

Just wondering, you mention that you have traveled to Thailand and China a number of times recently, have you had similar experiences most of the time re-entering the U.S? Or would you say most of the time you re-enter without incident?

4:54 AM  
Anonymous Jonas said...

Thank You

all of your points are dead on, question authority or be questioned by it.

5:15 AM  
Anonymous kjsleet said...

Perhaps unsurprisingly all the Title 19 USC sections cited by the CBP deal exclusively with vessels, vehicles, or freight, or grant only the authorization to search a traveler's person or belongings. While they can search you, your bags, your conveyance, and your animal (?!) they do not have the authority to question you, nor are you under any obligation to answer their questions. I'm sure they'll take that "search your person" authority right up to the inside of your colon if you don't play nice with them, though...

Go ahead and read for yourselves:

I'm sure this is not the extent of the law covering their activities, but it's interesting that they attempt to mislead travelers as to the CBP's responsibilities and authority right on their webpage.

5:16 AM  
Blogger Eqan Asif said...

I admire your actions, but what you have failed to mention the ethnicity of the US citizen entering into his own country---like me.

Being a born Pakistani, an immigrant, and a Muslim name I'm subjected to "random scrutiny" EVERYTIME I enter or leave the country. What would you think would happen to me, if I refused to answer the questions?

I know, I'd be detained for no less than 6 hours, I'd be interviewed by FBI agents--to their satisfaction--my bags will be checked, double checked, and then checked again, and then I'd be placed on the people-to-watch-out-for list, and my e-mail, phone, texts, and all digital communication would undoubtedly monitored.

Not that I care about the ephemeral chatter of politics and national egoism, we (Americans) have always, willingly, given up our rights for the greater security. Going all the way back to the Civil War, WWI, WWII, and the post-world war era---this is no different.

5:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. You are a douchebag. Thank you for being the douchebag who sticks his neck out for the rest of us probing the limits of the system, and thus, hopefully keeping the limits of the system where they should be.

2. Folks really need to understand Kohlberg's stages of moral development. It helps when reading many of the reactionary posts. Most adults operate at stage 4, "Authority and social-order maintaining orientation." Even without an explanation, doesn't that phrase completely explain many of the comments here?

The problem arises in the fact that our Constitution operates at Stage 5, "Social contract orientation." Most adults aren't really able to understand why it's important that you have the right to not be forced to answer questions at the border (or when being approached by police.) It just can't fit into the rules-based, black-and-white way they see the world or understand "right and wrong."

6:40 AM  
Anonymous Mu said...

While you are right on the first part, the admission to the US, you're off on the custom inspection part. The CBP officer doing admissions should have just sent you off with your "marked for inspection" declaration, but after the admission you do have to cooperate with customs, to the point of decrypting computer files. Usual search and seizure rules don't apply at the border, and unlike in criminal trials, they can use your refusal to answer as reasonable suspicion to dig deeper.

6:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said. Thank you for responding to the various queries about your original post. I also commend you on your bravery. There are too many sheep in this country.

6:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am Canadian and often I travel to Europe. If it not a direct flight, I always try to have stopover outside the US. For only one single reason, the custom agents are nasty and rude with everybody. They make you feel like a criminal. I would not care to go in Americans airports if it was not that bad. I love to visit Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, New-York and Las Vegas and others place. Once your finish with these custom agents and you are visiting, you meet great people everywhere in that great country.

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Benjamin Franklin

That man was right then and still now. So that why I feel sorry for the American peoples that travel abroad and have to go through that hassle all the times.


7:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At JFK after a flight from Europe, I was asked what the reason for my trip to the United States was. I was born in the USA and hold a US passport, so I was confused. The agent told me I could be refused entry into the US because I had a residence visa from another country.

7:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope that you speak to a good attorney with significant experience in civil rights matters. It sounds to me like the conduct you have described might give rise to a Bivens action. I'm licensed to practice law in Wisconsin, and my litigation pertaining to unlawful detention and arrest has been limited to actions under 42 USC section 1983, which is not applicable to federal employees who violate the constitutional rights of citizens. If a state cop conducted himself in the fashion you described, it would give rise to an action under section 1983. The equivalent action against a federal employee is a Bivens action, but I don't have any experience in Bivens actions and therefore don't want to shoot my mouth off. But please do your fellow citizens a favor and consult at least a couple attorneys in your area who have experience suing in federal court in tort for constitutional rights violations.

7:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This gentleman is not a hero. He is a citizen. And to my mind, that is the higher compliment. To routinely, without shame, and without fear assert your rights as a human makes one a citizen. Those who capitulate, cower, and apologize are nothing.

8:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For those who say, "just answer and move on" you have to ask, or research, or even open your mind, to the obvious question: Why do they want to know business or pleasure?" If the question has no meaning, then why do they ask it? To open up the very thing the author has so eloquently expressed.

Orwell talked about the point at which people saw the elimination of liberty as true freedom. If you have no obligation to answer the question, then why do the persons who stand between you and home ask them at all? What purpose does it serve them and you?

As to those who say the author is being paranoid and should just lighten up. I suggest you look to a series of videos (youtube) called "never talk to the police" and really try and understand what is being said. They are not there to help you. If the author had said "sir I need some help" he'd have been dismissed outright, as there was a line.They are there to find a way to arrest you, fine you, or simply harass you and nothing else - you accept this because once in a blue moon they "catch a bad guy."

We have all tolerated this stuff for too long, we are treated like animals/criminals leaving the store (check your receipt), entering a ballgame, going to a show, coming back to the country - you need to prove you are innocent (even the courts have become this as the cost of defense is punishment).

Since more than 95 percent of the population are doing things just fine, why do said 95 percent need to be treated like @#$% under the guise of "the few bad apples make us do it?"

9:15 AM  
Anonymous Bergman said...

One point of federal law that I find fascinating, is 18USC241 and 242. Put simply, 242 makes it a federal crime to misuse official authority to violate statutory, civil or constitutional rights. Simply putting pressure on someone to not exercise their rights is worth a year in federal prison under that law. Actually using force jumps it up to ten years to life (or possibly death under some circumstances). 241 is conspiracy to commit a violation of 242, and all penalties are 1 step more severe (two or more officials putting pressure on someone not to exercise rights is 10 years in prison for both).

Almost any member of the executive, judicial or congressional branches, as well as government bureaucrats, are subject to this law.

I would absolutely love to see how a fairly tried case of a citizen's arrest for violation of rights, by some random citizen upon an abusive official would go.

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the most encouraging thing I've read today.

What is the mindset of a person that considers another person exercising their (our!) rights a douchebag?

I just don't get it.

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd wager to write off most of the negative comments on here as; People in law in enforcement, friends or family of such, and idiots who don't know any better.

Bravo sir, you are awesome.

2:33 PM  
Blogger chocoboat said...

My brother has gotten a reckless driving ticket and a 30-day jail sentence because he volunteered information to the police. If he had said nothing, he's fine.

People really need to learn NEVER to offer any extra information to law enforcement. It is their job to catch lawbreaking of any kind, and some have gotten too used to "discovering" crimes that didn't even happen, just going by the words you use.

What I find very confusing are the people who get offended and call Mr. Karl rude names because he chooses to exercise his rights.

It's a fascinating study in human psychology, that people are so strongly pro-government and pro-law enforcement that they will argue on enforcement's side... just because of the potential to save a minute or two of their time in an airport. People's minds are so programmed to obey authority of any kind that it's seen as a flaw if you question that.

Honestly though - I am in favor of strong law enforcement, including racial profiling. But the enforcers MUST follow the rules whether they like it or not.

2:52 PM  
Blogger chocoboat said...

I'd also like to respond to the "giving up liberty for safety" quote - BEN FRANKLIN NEVER SAID THAT.

Also, the quote makes no sense. You give up liberty for safety every day. You can't drive 90 mph, you can't own certain types of weapons, you can't start fires anywhere you want, etc. The vast majority of laws force people to give up liberty to gain safety, and nearly all of them are very good to have around.

The quote just sounds nice and "rings true", and falsely attributing it to Franklin only makes it seem stronger. But it's really just nonsense, and as a certifiable genius, Benjamin Franklin would never had said it.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Tony Gates said...

This is good sign that you are getting support from people around,for you and for U.S. democracy too. It was really bizarre to dealt someone like this.
lead answer

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To all the black / Latin / muslims who said, "Nice work, white boy, now try living like us!", I suggest that if more white boys asserted their rights then it would be a lot less dangerous for a non-white boy to do so.

I also think that the cops overreacted to harass him, but ultimately followed the rules. The real win would've been if they had done something seriously wrong. Then he WOULD have a reason to sue, and win his lawsuit, and vindicate his and your right to remain silent at borders.

I've been through a fake "border" harassment on a Greyhound bus in Arizona that never left the US. All the other sheep showed IDs and answered questions. When the cop asked if I was a US citizen, I never said a word. They harassed me, I never said a word. Eventually his sergeant came by and suggested that I might be a US citizen who was "testing him". Ultimately I never said a word and they let me and the bus continue. Now I want to find a dozen Latin looking American citizens to do the same thing, and just wait for a stupider sergeant to detain or arrest some of them. Free money AND vindication of the rights of minorities. Of course, if the government officials weren't prejudiced then there'd be no issue and no lawsuit.

THE MORE PEOPLE WHO ASSERT THEIR RIGHTS, THE EASIER IT BECOMES FOR ALL OF US -- both those who assert rights, and those who would never consider doing so.

6:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Christ almighty, you are the world's biggest whiner. "YOU'RE SHILLS IF YOU DARE DISAGREE WITH ME!"

I agree fully with The Last Psychiatrist on this one.

"The easy interpretation is that he is/is not an idiot for baiting the border patrol. Yes, it's his right not to answer questions (or not to show ID at security, which I tried), but for a man who has had 5 months to reconsider his position he's apparently learned nothing.

The real question, however, is why he did this. The only way this form of protest is meaningful is if it is done in public. In other words, the only reason for him to do this is so that he could tell us about it.

He thinks this is a battle between himself and the border patrol as representatives of the US Government. That would be a gigantic example of not seeing the other person, not seeing their perspective. That border agent isn't a representative of the government, he's an employee of it. Look at them closely-- they don't look like Dick Cheney at all. These aren't arms of the Executive Branch that thrive on suppressing the human dignity of liberals, these are people who enjoy Schlitz and masturbation. Just like any other decent American. You can't change anything by yelling at him, and Lukacs knows that. And he doesn't care. Lukacs is the main character in his own movie, and he is yelling at the character designated as "mean border agent." Note that he didn't bother to take the names of any of the fascists who were mauling his civil rights. In the credits, they will appear as #1, #2, #3, etc."

Very nice job, making other people's lives difficult for the sake of fighting the power. Are we going to listen to Rage Against The Machine later?

Nah, you seem like more of a Propagahndi type.

8:34 PM  
Blogger Tomas said...

I've never been to the US, but I've been outside of the EU a number of times and haven't been asked such questions except for in the form you receive on the plane.

The most integrity breaching thing done to me by border security was when I walked through some camera at Beijing airport that measured my precious body heat. But, you know, the swine flu..

10:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A FANTASTIC review of our US rights. Wonderful to see this in action. I thank you and appreciate your write-up.

10:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not paranoid, not a d****, simply a U.S. Citizen protecting his rights.

This reminded me of a very helpful video that was shared by the CATO institute back in May '10. It's worth referring to for understanding your broader rights while moving about WITHIN the U.S.:

Watch It Here: "10 Rules for Dealing with Police"

Source: The video presented in its entirety at the blog above was produced by

12:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Without people like you there would be no freedom of any type. Thank you.

12:49 AM  
Blogger Yossarianette said...

This is incredibly important and I salute you for having the clarity of vision to realize a sentence like "A right undefended will shrivel and die." I am in debt to you for showing me the ridiculous nature of CBP interrogations of citizens and I have half of a mind to do what you have done next time I re-enter the US. It's clear from your salient points that you really know what you are talking about. A lot of these jerks calling you anti-American or power tripping are law enforcement allies, and I hope you will not let them get you down. I am just so excited to see a follow up to this incredibly important story! Send this back to the people who picked up your story in the first place, it's very necessary reading.

1:22 AM  
Blogger Miq-Tak said...

#9 is the one that speaks to me. The rest are specific to this particular case, but the part about not being treated like a potential criminal for no reason is universal. Thanks for all of it.

1:53 AM  
Blogger Albatross said...

Heh, two words: "Peter Watts"

No, granted, totally different case - he was OUTBOUND to the known terrorist nation of Ca-Na-Da. They smoke pot there, you know.

I appreciate your willingness to exercise your rights in this manner. What your example and that of Watts say to me is this:

The United States is becoming a strongly authoritarian nation, a nation that believes those in power are right by default, that justice for the powerful should be weaker than justice for the powerless, and that those, like you, who make trouble by asserting your rights should 'sit down and shut up.'

This is an important and dangerous trend, born of an emaciated school system which fails to convey important historical truths about authoritarian rule. For example, the union movement of the last century that brought us so many standards now taken for granted - the 40 hour work week, sick days, etc. - is completely omitted from textbooks written by conservative corporations wedded to authoritarian rule.

It's the emergence of corporate feudalism in America, and only by standing up and saying 'no' can any attempt to thwart it begin.

2:42 AM  
Blogger Otto said...

Good for you.

Point that you might point out to people who say that they have the authority to question you: The CBP claims that they have "broad powers to interrogate" in many places around the web and such. However, in actual fact, their power to interrogate comes from only one place.

The Immigration and Nationality Act, section 287, gives custom officers the right "to interrogate any alien or person believed to be an alien as to his right to be or to remain in the United States".

That is it. That is the only power to question you that they have. They can ask you to prove that you're allowed to be in the country. Nothing more.

Of course, any citizen can ask you any question that they please. You're not obliged to answer them though. Something you might want to point out to the naysayers.

3:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." --Benjamin Franklin

Keep up the good work

3:23 AM  
Blogger Neo Conservative said...

saw comedian jimmy "j.j." walker on letterman talking about dealing with customs before boarding a plane recently.

apparently they found crib notes for his comedy routine that included words like "al-qaeda" and "bomb" and were getting ready to look up his ass with a microscope.

he tried to tell them they were over-reacting and then they really jumped down his throat... "mr walker... do you think this is funny?"

it kind of went downhill from there.


3:42 AM  
Blogger LH said...

You're missing one trick:

Government is your servant. Without evidence of any wrongdoing the answer should have been "go fuck yourselves".

And if anyone thinks that's extreme what's the difference between the question you were asked and maybe:

"Did you have sex with hookers in China?"
"Did you take any illegal drugs when you were in China"
"What's your credit card pin number?"

Etc etc

It is none of the state's business.


3:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry you have so much trouble with getting back into the U.S.

I travel overseas regularly and have never had a problem. The officers usually never even ask any questions at all. They've never asked "business or pleasure" or anything else when I'm returning.

The last time I entered the U.S., (2 weeks ago) the officer asks, "U.K.?" I said, "Yeah, I'm fine." And he looked at me askance. I then realized what he had asked, and I simply stated, "Oh, yes, we were in the U.K." And he said, "Have a nice day."

4:11 AM  
Anonymous Marc said...

This experience is an interesting read, but doesn't seem to be as negative from a rights perspective as many people make it out to be.

The end result was that the author was admitted to the United States after an extended screening process without answering questions about his travel, and that is something that is encouraging.

Neither I nor the author knows exactly what went on while he was detained.

Perhaps the first people the author interacted with lacked the training or authority to respond; certainly an issue, but one that is reasonable to understand.

Perhaps there were other background checks that were going on to look for evidence that the author should be detained for some other thing that he could be legally detained for. In the end, there was nothing and he was free to go. Inconvenient and worth understanding better, but in the scope of the travel itinerary is not completely out of line.

I agree with folks questioning the usefulness of attempting to require citizens to answer these questions, agree that the authorities may not be well trained, may be vindictive.

Continued exercise of the right to refuse to answer questions is a worthy cause, but given how rare it is then it is also not surprising that the authorities have difficulty in dealing with it.

4:14 AM  
Anonymous Panamajack said...

Problem with #1: they can't legally bar you from entry into your country, but you have to prove to the assholes that you are indeed a citizen and that your documentation isn't forged. They *are* allowed to take their sweet-ass time and cause you endless trouble.

4:21 AM  
Blogger mcg said...

Agree with you in all respects except number 5. Your rudeness served no productive purpose whatsoever. Defiance and rudeness need not be conflated.

4:28 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

“Business or Pleasure?” Is A Trap.

You cannot be serious with this. They already asked you this question in the written customs form, which you acknowledge you are legally obligated to fill out. So you are not placing yourself in any additional legal jeopardy by answering the question verbally as well.

Besides, I've heard of trumped-up charges, but getting indicted for saying "business" instead of "pleasure"? That's ridiculous. Well, I should say, it's possible that such a ludicrous charge could be brought against you. But, as a lawyer you must know that it's farmore likely that trumped-up charges would result from your being rude to the customs agent, than from your simply answering their question (truthfully or not)!

The bottom line is this: The only possible reason for saying "None of your business" in response to this question is to provoke a confrontation.

Now, that's all well and good. I like a good confrontation, especially when I'm not actually involved in it. But I bet the people behind you in line were non-plussed.

You are being really disingenuous here, trying to justify your actions post hoc. Just admit it: it was a long, uncomfortable flight, you had to use the bathroom, and you lost your temper at the customs agent. Not a horrendous crime, but hardly the stuff of hero worship.

4:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Without distracting from the meat of your exercise here, which I think is great, I do take issue at your need to assert power. Power struggles beget power struggles and only serve to create resentment and eventually reactive, usually over-reactive, responses.

From the way you wrote about it, it seemed like you felt you needed, or deserved, to satisfy your own desire for power at the expense of the person you were interacting with. I wasn't there, so I can't claim to know what their demeanor was, but responding to what someone represents and not how they behave is what I believe is at the core of much of the criticism you've gotten. To think that acting in a way to gain the illusion of power is in any way supporting your assertion of your individual rights is profoundly naive and counterproductive. If you truly want to make an impact in asserting and actively defending your rights, something that I agree as many people as possible should do, then you need to leave your Ego out of it.

If you can accomplish that, then it won't matter how you did it, the act will stand on it's own and people will be able to see it for what it is without tarnish. What they make of it is up to them and entirely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. If it makes you into a hero, great, if that's what you want, if not, so be it, but at least the message I think you're trying to make will have a life of its own.

For the commentors who claim that what he's done, or how he did it, is "un-American". I suggest you go back to your basics. Read and re-read the Declaration of Independence until the light bulb goes on that his act of asserting and defending the rights that are the foundation of this country without violence or intimidation (might be a little flaky given the whole "None of your business" shtick, but that's pretty tame) is as "American" as it can possibly get.

4:32 AM  
Anonymous Real American Hero said...

Damn dawg, I'd hate to see how you answer the question "paper or plastic?" at the grocery store.

4:34 AM  
Anonymous beorning said...

All things in moderation, nothing to excess.

When asked whether my trip was business or pleasure, I answer both (or sometimes "yes"). It usually ends there, but with the agent smiling rather than becoming belligerent.

4:43 AM  
Anonymous steve said...

"When it comes to rights, you don’t know in advance what battle will be important"

I hate to say this, you need to learn and study the above quote from an article I read once... Wait, this is yours.

Why do you not follow your own advice? After reading your ten points, I am thinking you wear tin hats.

4:47 AM  
Anonymous Opinions of Judges Matter Not said...

Quoting case law sucks the marrow out of your outstanding point.

A judges decision/ruling is headed with "Opinion..." It's just that. Site the actual law/constitution and other judges opinions be damned. None of them took an oath to defend the decisions of other judges...relevant to that case only, no case/decision/ruling/opinion could be contrary to the existing, higher law.

I see this fact as fundamental to your position. Am I wrong?

4:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good on you mate.

4:49 AM  
Anonymous Darryl said...

Oaky, but if you refuse to answer, then don't they have you possibly trying to conceal something? Then they can't cut your luggage to pieces, rip your car to pieces, etc?

4:51 AM  
Anonymous Darryl Sadler said...

Okay, but if you refuse to answer, then don't they have you possibly trying to conceal something? Then they can't cut your luggage to pieces, rip your car to pieces, etc?

Also, what about the importation allowances. How do you get around those?

4:54 AM  
Blogger Hassan said...

‎"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a
little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -Benjamin Franklin

4:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is great work, but I don't know how to apply it.

First, I'm not a lawyer, and I don't know federal or international law. I don't know exactly what my rights are in this area, and when an agent is lying to me (intentionally or not).

Second, I don't what to say to assert them, because even when you know what your rights are, simply stating them to the agent is often insufficient. You can quote federal case to them but these agents are typically the last people in the world to read federal legal decisions!

For example, I have tried to fly (within the states) without showing ID before. Apparently that is my right, and the Gilmore v Gonzales case was decided in part upon the belief by the judges that one could fly without ID if you simply asked to. But I've been stopped at the TSA lines by absolute demands for ID -- what do you say? Gilmore actually recommends lying: apparently people who say they have no ID get through just fine. But I do have ID, and (for all the reasons you state) I don't want to lie to agents of the federal government.

I want to assert my rights, but I also want to not end up in Gitmo playing chicken with a federal prosecutor over my life. I know some photographers/lawyers have put together a tiny little "these are my rights" card for photographers. It would be cool if somebody could (or did) put together something similar for travelers!

Best of luck in your future travels, and thank you.

4:58 AM  
Anonymous Mr Lizard said...

Sorry to be picky, but our country isn't called Great Britain, it's called the United Kingdom. GB is just the island that includes Wales, England and Scotland, it doesn't include Northern Ireland :-)

5:05 AM  
Anonymous V. Kelly said...

I only read the original thread today, and clicked the link to this thread. Just kind of a casual link passed on from a friend. I didn't read any of the previous comments, though, I can't imagine no one asked, "Was it worth it?"

I don't really understand what you gained from the experience from reading any of this since it appears to me you clearly went in with the knowledge of what may happen.

I did like that you pointed out the freedom to not speak -- which I think people easily forget, since they get more enthralled with the freedom to speak. I'm pretty new to the concept myself being that I've only been a citizen officially a couple of months now... but I've been here for almost thirty years, and I'm pretty sure 'freedom of speech' does and will not equate to 'speech free of consequence'.

My cousin, second generation American, had a similar experience and was detained, and even handed over to the INS for a couple of hours, who had no jurisdiction but got involved anyway. But he filed a formal complaint, requested permission from the government to file a lawsuit, etc.

(Apparently you need permission from the government to sue the government ?? -- that's what I understood from his story. Wasn't entirely clear on that point, but that's an aside.)

All I'm really reading here, though, is a dead end.

As far as I can tell... aside from blogging about it, and having other people blog about you blogging about it, and then responding to comments... it doesn't sound like anything actually came out of the situation. Kind of a pity since you seemed to be on a good run there enacting and promoting your individual rights... and then it just stops.

If I read any conclusion in it at all it was that "if you enact the rights you're entitled to, you'll inconvenience yourself and everyone around you."

I mean, the information regarding what one's rights are will be helpful to some readers, but it's not exactly enabling.

I kept waiting for the "IF THIS HAPPENS TO YOU . . ." sub-header, but it kind of didn't happen. There are procedures and people who can be contacted, directly, that who will recognise a formal complaint if you were to issue one. There are also things you should prepare to do, and information you should try to collect from the officers involved in order to do so... I think that information, alongside your opinions and explications would've been nice.

You seemed to have commanded quite an audience with the first post, and maybe this one as well -- I sure wouldn't have found it on my own -- but, it only gave a narrow glimpse of the experience, and then fades to black waiting for the audience to fill in the blanks.

5:06 AM  
Anonymous V. Kelly said...

I only read the original thread today, and clicked the link to this thread. Just kind of a casual link passed on from a friend. I didn't read any of the previous comments, though, I can't imagine no one asked, "Was it worth it?"

I don't really understand what you gained from the experience from reading any of this since it appears to me you clearly went in with the knowledge of what may happen.

I did like that you pointed out the freedom to not speak -- which I think people easily forget, since they get more enthralled with the freedom to speak. I'm pretty new to the concept myself being that I've only been a citizen officially a couple of months now... but I've been here for almost thirty years, and I'm pretty sure 'freedom of speech' does and will not equate to 'speech free of consequence'. As much as I can empathize with anyone who meets drama at immigration/customs, I can't say I'm surprised, or that I sympathize with you especially.

My cousin, second generation American, had a similar experience and was detained, and even handed over to the INS for a couple of hours, who had no jurisdiction but got involved anyway. But he went forward, filed a formal complaint, etc.

From what I'm reading here, the situation led to a dead end.

As far as I can tell... aside from blogging about it, and having other people blog about you blogging about it, and then responding to comments... it doesn't sound like anything actually came out of the situation. Kind of a pity since you seemed to be on a good run there enacting and promoting your individual rights, commanded an internet following, but then nothing happens.

The thing about knife tricks, is while they're fun to watch, there's inherent wasted potential, for both the tool and the wielder.

5:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never had much of a problem returning to the US. I have however had a problem every single time I traveled through Canada (land and air). I am Indian, and it has been made clear that Canadians do not like brown people. One time I wore an Indian shirt as we drove over the border and a cop pulled us over and asked my boyfriend how he knew me and what I was doing there (the cop didn't even acknowledge me and kept talking about me to the other passengers). Then we were asked to pull off to the building for further inspection.

While flying, normally there's one declaration card for a family traveling together, regardless of names. I was with my parents and my fiance / common-law husband so we had one card. Naturally Canada didn't consider us a family and we had to get out of line to fill out a separate card for him. I was also stopped at immigration while merely transiting through Canada and I was asked bizarre questions including "What do you do?" and "How tall are you?" The amount of b.s. I get in Canada, I've never gotten in any of the dozens of countries I've traveled through

5:17 AM  
Anonymous anonymous swedish PP member said...

"When it comes to rights, you don’t know in advance what battle will be important"

Exactly. For instance, refusing to go to the back of the bus (since there is no actual law requiring it) might show a lot of people that the local practice of bullying is wrong. The act was minor, the importance great.
Some of us, miss Parks, remember your lesson.

5:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My wife, then fiancee, were honest and forthcoming and the CBP not only applied the law incorrectly (as per their "field manual"), but at a great price to my wife and I. Since March 2008 elected officials acted as if they couldn't be bothered or had no power, my wife and I have spent over $50K, and my wife is still not allowed in the country...

Background per Ann Woolner of Bloomberg:

Being an untrustworthy bully serves no one. I respect the CBPs right to protect us and they have done that admirably, but at a cost. Not just to me, but to the potential pool of bright, young applicants to our university science, math, and technology programs, to potential tourists during a recession, and to others.

What I take from these articles/experiences is that the CBP could do better, much better. Cheif among the changes is personal respect. My grandparents generation (now 80+), both sides treated each other as partners and with a great deal more respect. Countries like Japan are more secure and respect people's rights while doing so...which in turn makes them even more secure.

Good article, perhaps a little aggressive in the action, but the CBP wields a lot of power...and in my case it has created a great deal of emotional and financial destruction...unnecessarily, so maybe these actions are correct in that they provoke thought.

5:28 AM  
Anonymous Pecos Bill said...

I think most people are sheeple when it comes to asserting rights because there are just a ridiculous number of laws. Consider, we have US, State, County, and (depending) City laws — all quite numerous at each level. I highly doubt that all the lawyers know every single one and certainly not for jurisdictions one doesn't frequent. So these sheeple fail to assert rights they don't know. I also agree totally about our emaciated schools (by design).

So, it's my understanding (no lawyer here) that a border crossing is considered international territory for at least some part of it. What's to stop them from admitting someone beyond the international point (possibly immigration aka checkpoint one) and detaining you at customs — possibly US soil. Once you're on US soil, they've adhered to US law (readmitted) but literally can detain you until the statute (amendment?) you cannot be held without being charged (though there are examples of that being broken, IIRC, as well as numerous other laws)? 9-11 definitely has fucked over our country in so many ways.

As for being careful for what you say, you're bang on. Other's linked to "Don't talk to Cops" but I have my own story of a friend. The short of it is the cops decided in their minds that the drug selling operation at my friend's business had to be masterminded by my overly-trusting, good-hearted friend. Unfortunately, due to him trying to be helpful, he made statements that could be used to implicate him when in fact he was hardly present while the drug sellers ran the company's tiny operations. Alas, at his lawyer's recommendation, he had to take a plea bargain and serve time when in fact (and I fully trust) he was and is innocent.

Lastly, if you're ever pulled over and asked to step out of your car, lock it. Some cops take that lack as an invite to snoop.

5:43 AM  
Anonymous jag said...

While I understand what you're saying about politeness, "None of your business" seems needlessly confrontational.

Is there a less confrontational way of saying essentially the same thing, like "I decline to answer"? (I'm not crazy about that one either because of the obvious follow-up "Why?", so I'm looking for something better.)

5:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So rather than let border patrol do their job and protect us from actual threats, you wasted their time so you could prove what a huge douchebag you are? The next time you leave this country, do us all a favor and STAY OUT!

6:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My experience is that the CBC is different at each airport, even within the terminals at LAX. I have been hassled several times by the CBC at the Bradley International Terminal at LAX, but not at all at Term #2 (Virgin Atlantic) or at Term #4 (American Airlines, sometimes open). I now try to fly airlines that don't use the Bradley Terminal due to the ugliness* of the CBC there.

When I went through customs at Dallas last year the CBC officer was so nice, that I told him so and told him how awful the ones at LAX are. He laughed and said, "Welcome home, ma'am, you're in Texas now."

* Two years ago, CBC Officer Wa at the Bradley Terminal announced to me, "I DON'T like your hair. I might not let you in." Me: "Uh.. I am a US Citizen, you can't deny me entry." Officer Wa: "Huh! I Don't Like Your Hair."

Silently I thought: Sorry for the purple streak, Officer Wa, may one of your grandchildren come home with a green mohawk.

6:07 AM  
Anonymous Scott said...


Franklin has been attributed with that, and variants, several times, including "Memoirs of the life and writings of Benjamin Franklin" by Benjamin Franklin, William Temple Franklin.

6:08 AM  
Blogger mossrockss said...

In Berghuis v. Thompkins, the Supreme Court ruled that you must explicitly assert your right to silence for that right to take effect.

Did you explicitly state you had the right to remain silent or did you just stay silent when they pursued further questions? From the story it sounded like the latter, but this ruling could make a difference in how things go down next time.

6:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@the 'innocuous questions' folk
Seems many of you have forgotten what the OP wrote. He already answered the question on his entry card. Any further questioning is disingenuous and could easily be construed as 'fishing'.

"Q10 Mark an X in the Yes or No box. Are you traveling on a business (work-related) trip? ~~ Customs Declaration Form

An interesting aside -- as an Australian citizen who does not hold an Australian passport, every time I visit Australia I have to answer yes on the declaration form when it asks whether I am a citizen. Failure to do so would perjure myself. As a result I have to be officially warned/cautioned that I am advised but not compelled to carry an Australian passport when entering Australia. And they do it - take me aside, look me up on their database and give me a little photocopied slip saying just that. You'd think once was enough but no. every time. Naturally this slows down my entry and is a pain in the arse. On the other hand the alternative is an expensive document that would only get used every few years.

Wellington, New Zealand

6:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please know that being "tart" is essentially stooping their level. You are just as bad as they are to you. And that is never a good thing. Be a good person.

6:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All good and well, but now to the fundamental and important issues: "You and your travelling companion say “pleasure” but you’re returning from Antwerp, a city known for its diamond trade not its nightlife"

Excuse me? I'll have you know that we have over 1,000 bars, restaurants and dancings. Manhattan, move over! Any time of the week you can see more live bands than in NYC - and afterwards you're not dumped on the street for the next session.

So stop all that silly stuff and move to Belgium already!

(serious: respect!)

6:51 AM  
Blogger VoidBeast said...

From wp: "In the U.S., the only way for one to protect one's rights fully is to refuse answering any questions beyond giving one's name and identifying papers if requested and to refuse giving consent to anything (such as a search) prior to one's arrest. Law enforcement officials do not have to tell civilians the truth on any subject. They can make any promises and claims they like in order to induce a person to incriminate herself or himself or to allow the officer to perform a search, and law enforcement officials are not bound by anything they promise to suspects or witnesses (i.e. promises of aid or protection)."

That's reason enough for me to stay silent. And once again, I don't give a shit about wasting your time, if you don't give a shit about wasting my rights. That goes to all you anonypunks again.

7:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How does asserting your rights make you a douchebag? If other lemmings are too stupid or misinformed about their rights, or decide not to assert them, that's up to them.

Doesn't our government exist only with the consent of the governed? There's nothing wrong with what you did.

7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the general idea, even if it is mostly impractical for most travelers. However, you have as many suppositions as facts and you should distinguish them more carefully.

8:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A CBP officer can attempt to engage you in consensual discourse, just as can a cop on the street. I don't begrudge them that; it's an effective way to do their job. I agree you have the right not to answer beyond the required documents and declarations. It doesn't anger me that they ask, though, just as it doesn't anger me that someone might refuse.

I wish you had emphasized to your readers that the law provides that the officers may physically search you and your belongings (including the contents of electronic devices). I foresee someone less educated in the law being surprised at the level of physical scrutiny they and their belongings receive after they've asserted their right not to answer questions. That, in fact, might be the easiest path for an officer to trump up charges. If you don't trust that the officer(s) in question won't trump up charges based on a truthful, innocent answer to a routine question, then be aware that you are inviting a battle between your Fifth Amendment silence vs their Fourth Amendment search. If you or they are not on the up-and-up, you will lose.

As for how you go about declining to answer questions, I think that depends on your ultimate goal. If you want to not answer while also minimizing any hassle in response, then "None of your business" is not the way to go. If your goal is to not answer while "making a statement" about your right not to do so, then it seems to work pretty good.

If you are envisioning some future court proceeding where your statements might be relevant, then actual silence would be best. Next best would be to just say, "No statement."

However, if you're just trying to stand by your rights while minimizing hassles, you might offer a bit more context at the outset. "I'm not trying to be rude, but I have the right to re-enter without answering such questions. If there's no problem with my proof of citizenship, I'd like to proceed to customs." That's essentially what you ended up telling them later. Put it up front, and things might go more smoothly.

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Zeus said...

I've never had a bad experience with travelling abroad. They've never looked in my bags or felt me up. Once I went through the metal detector 4 times before the officer suggested I remove my metal belt lol.

With such ease of transit, I feel like I might as well say: I went on vacation. I didn't bring anything back.

10:11 AM  
Anonymous ianf said...

It's all very well to assert your rights (whether they were implicitly or explicitly questioned at the border or not), but, to affect any change in the "federal attitude" you really need to take them to court and/or question=shame publicly their methods.

Simply put, if they can afford to assign as many as 5 people to your "case," utter authoritarian [even though ultimately silly] threats and prolong your guaranteed readmission by half an hour (yours and multiple theirs), then, clearly, they are overstaffed and wasteful of public money. THis should be reported to their funding authority. Plus, they owe you for the half an hour at whatever hourly rate you usually charge.

So, at the very least, you need to find and engage the enthusiasm of some up-and-coming young journalist who'll investigate it further as were it a case with Pulitzer-prize potential (and why not, if blown up sufficiently? surely, these abuses weren't confined to your airport, but are more of a pattern all over the place).

10:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to try your approach the next time I re-enter Britain (I have a British passport), but as I don't know if I'll be breaking any laws, can someone advise me if I can do the US equivalent of "Taking the 5th" at UK immigration?

Congratulations on making a stand - I hope your two articles will encourage a lot more people to do the same.

12:57 PM  
Blogger space said...

you are right

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How would you respond to a search of your computer?

From what I understand, the Ninth Circuit ruled in United States v. Arnold that Border Patrol agents may search and seize the laptop computers, cell phones and other digital devices of anyone entering the country, including US citizens who are not suspected of any crimes. The agents can review, copy and store the data without limitation.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Sulayman said...

A Legal group called Muslim Advocates actually made instructional videos on how to deal with CBP in such a situation: Got Rights?

2:14 PM  
Anonymous Doctor Whiteface said...

Thank you very much for reminding us not to behave like sheep and to continuously protect our rights.

There are many World War II soldiers who gave up their lives and limbs to fight for the very freedoms we are unquestionably giving up ... all in the supposed cause of "national security."

Once they are gone, they will not be easily regained.

2:21 PM  
Anonymous Alice Bevan-McGregor said...

As I commented on the original article:

Not that anyone will read my comments by this point (there has been so much discussion already about this important subject), there is a two-part video on YouTube entitled "Don't talk to police" / "Don't talk to cops":

A law professor and police officer demonstrate the many ways you can be charged based on innocuous statements, even statements of truth.

3:03 PM  
Anonymous Pax said...

While I do believe that a non-confrontational tone may have smoothed the way for you through Customs, you are nonetheless absolutely correct on every single other point.

By the by, on the off-chance anyone cares: I post as "Pax" on the Consumerist. :) My own take on this issue can be gleaned from the comments I made there.

3:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am confused. I frequently travel internationally on business and pleasure and China has been among those destinations. The only thing anyone ever says at Customs is "Welcome home." Zero questions. And I'm a naturalized citizen.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think behavior like this just puts you on their radar in the future. I think you can answer with non-answers and get through without getting a notation in your file.

Business or pleasure? Just say that you're not really sure what the terms mean in a technical sense, and that they probably have different meanings, for instance to the IRS, to the visa issuing authorities, and so on, so you don't feel comfortable answering without knowing more of the context behind the question and consulting with an an attorney. A couple of answers like that, they'll be happy to get rid of you.

6:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That you do not need to answer the questions, does not mean that they do not have the right to ask reasonable questions to verify who you are and that your documentation matches you. To morph the situation into that you yourself know your own documents are ok, and therefore should not be inspected, is incorrect.

Part of the typical discussion is basically just to see if you know who you are, as part of a method to determine if the documentation is yours. The exact answers are not so important, but that you should know about yourself. Do you know where you were ? Do you know what you did ? Do you know where you are going ? Do you know where you work ? If the documentation is not yours (i.e. faked), then often simple short conversation can reveal clues that there is something amiss. It's not going to stop James Bond, but weeds out the clueless majority.

Not answering the questions, then is still ok, but probably would reasonably refer you to further verification procedures.

6:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dont want my possessions searched. Therefore I answer their questions. The worst that has happened is throwing out some beef due to the Mad Cow scare. Including that incident, the longest that I've been delayed has been a couple minutes.
Have fun enjoying your extended delays.

8:27 PM  
Anonymous Andy said...

The US staff are definately the least friendly of all countries I've been to and ask the most questions, and take the most biometrics. If I ever need to be rebuilt like the bionic man, I'll be able to gather the necessary info from the them or whoever else they feel it's necessary to share that information with.

For a foreigner entering the US the business or pleasure question is very easy, you just read the information off your visa.

The most questions I've had from the UK was "where have you just come from?". I tell them and they say thank you and hand the passport back.

Once when trying to leave Qatar I did have a lady question that I was not wearing glasses but I did have them in the 9 year old photograph.

In both those above cases I wonder if they just want you to say something so they can check if your accent matches your nationality? Not a particularly reliable test I suppose but it would not surprise me.

9:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand your points and all but at the end of the day, I have a right to those four minutes at the airport you took. Sorry, my time is golden. Can't have you delaying me and stomping on my rights.

10:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes and no. Yes U.S., UK and Canadians officers are the most surly I've dealt with. I had one in Philly ask me why I was entering the U.S. because I am resident overseas. I greeted him with a Philly-esque "why the fuck do you care?" It startled him but he didn't ask any more questions.

Here's the no. I'm all for asserting your rights but you're either paranoid or cruising to be delayed (grandstanding). CBP could hold you on suspicion by your refusal. Yes you could call a lawyer but until CBP decides you are either not a threat or aren't doing something illegal (remember, U.S. law extends beyond U.S. borders for U.S. citizens and resident aliens) and that could be much longer than an hour.

Your CBP officer was right, complain to Congress. Of course Congress' balls are being kept in some secret drawer somewhere because they are useless so...catch 22.

11:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm pleased that I'm not the only one concerned by the overreaching power grab being conducted by the U.S. law enforcement agencies on it's citizens.

I applaud your efforts.

As a follow-up, what it the risk? How often does a U.S. citizen get arrested when reentering his own country for mis-answering these questions?

12:07 AM  
Anonymous Jeremy Duffy said...

For #7 I cheer for you. I say the same thing ALL THE TIME about the people who work in telephone customer service or sales. I have no responsibility to "appreciate the difficulty of their job". They chose it, not me.

2:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wanted to leave you another comment of support. As an American, I greatly appreciate you standing up for your rights since in doing so you are standing up for MY rights as well. Thank you!

2:35 AM  
Blogger bg said...

Attitude going in, Paul: specifically, you can only (lose) control (of) your own.

2:48 AM  
Anonymous Ian Sean said...

I see a lot of people who are opposed to the facts presented in this article. And that's fine, most people disagree with our principles of freedom here (like the 5th Amendment and the other nine besides). That is why most people live in other countries. There are 203 other countries on the planet where you the people are considered property and not masters of the government. Many of them are safe and affluent. Most are democracies (this country is not nor is it meant to be, but most folks glorify that buzzword "democracy"). Many of them are veritable political paradises for rightists or leftists (both of whom are very disgruntled here).
My advice is rather than complain about a dude exercising the 5th Amendment, just GO TO ANY OF THESE TWO HUNDRED THREE COUNTRIES! You will be happier there! I will be happier with you there! They will be happy to have you! We can all just be happy if you'll just let US be something different and if YOU go be the same as everyone else!

5:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My apologies if someone's covered this already, but one of the commenters noted that CBP has a "right to ask questions" of people reentering the Country. I don't think the author was disputing their "right." He was just asserting his countervailing Constitutional right NOT to answer those questions.

The only real risk is that if you're going to stand on those rights, which I applaud, by the way, you better be squeaky clean. Pissed-off cops will work hard to make a person's life difficult if for no other reason than they can. So, if you've got any small thing lurking in the closet--an unpaid traffic ticket--failure to appear under an official summons--or any other "legitimate" reason, they can arrest you and up the ante, so to speak.

So definitely assert those rights as some of us have at different times. But be prepared for the difficulty that ensues, especially if you've forgotten an outstanding black mark that they can hassle you with.

5:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very happy to read this. We need more citizens like you in this country and (obviously) far less customs agents who are (obviously) slowing down lines to increase the demand of their "services"...I am going to forward this to everyone I know.

7:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Many of the commenters are obviously CBP officers or shills – the repeated references to how CBP officers are underpaid is a tell "

No, it isn't. CBP pay scales are public information.

12:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

re: "And, in my reading of travel blogs, the U.S., Canada and Great Britain are the three countries consistently mentioned for their overreaching border officers."

I'd just like to mention that Israel surely must be way up there in the list too. Entry into the USA is annoying for a foreigner (I'm European), but Israel is a whole other kind of nightmare. Sure, it's understandable why for a variety of reasons and I really like the country, but still, the procedure is crazy if you aren't an Israeli citizen.
Russia too really isn't very happy about foreigners visiting their country it seemed to me when I went there once...

3:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Genius article. I am not an American citizen but I think this teaches us all about our rights. And I would underscore the point about underpaid officers - they should not be mistreating their own citizens as a protest against the pay conditions, as a matter of principle.

4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked the post/story, I love your bravura, and I absolutely envy your ability to, even after a transocean flight, effortlessly and admirably put the self-important CBP bullies in their place.

That being said, you're *completely* wrong about the other-passenger hold up. Several years ago, I was coming back from the Philippines, complete with a 6-hr layover in Narita, and I actually had the profound displeasure of having to be in line at CBP behind one of your kindred spirits. After a 20+ hour trip, the *last* thing I needed was to have to wait, even a few extra minutes, listening to the guy argue with the (decidedly rude) woman behind the counter. It didn't take too long for them to escalate him to secondary, but for every second of it, I was absolutely seething...even in retrospect, an extra several minutes when I'm already absolutely wasted from international travel *is* too much to ask of me for the purpose of satisfying your personal anti-authoritarian vendetta.

Again, I praise your ability to "stick it to the man", so to speak, but I'd rather you did it on your own time, rather than while standing in front of me at BCP. It may simply be a psychological factor exacerbating the effect of the additional time period I have to wait (what *is* an extra 2 minutes on 20 hours, anyway?), but that psychological factor, from personal experience, can be rather overwhelming.

I recommend in the future -- if only to avoid making enemies of your fellow-minded citizens -- that you make aware the CBP agent that you will *not* be answering any questions beyond what information you have already provided on the declaration, and should they care to abusively hold you for further questioning, they ought to escalate you immediately so as not to waste the time of the persons in line behind you.

My reckoning is that, by extending this extra measure of consideration to your fellow passengers, they will be ever more appreciative of your willingness to do what they, in their exhaustion, cannot.

You don't want the message to get lost in travel weariness or jet-lag temper.

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a douchebag.

12:57 PM  
Blogger caplight said...

while not disagreeing with the article I must say that my experiences with reentry have ranged from benign to pleasant. I love it when they hand me back my passport and say, "Welcome home," with a smile.

I would like to know if your name was put on a list and if you are then routinely given greater scrutiny in subsequent travel.

9:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your 6th response really resonated with me, having had a very intrusive encounter with Vancouver, BC border control a few years ago. I must have been there for at least an hour after all but one of an entire bus of people I was traveling with had left, while they asked all kinds of questions about my plans, looked through my luggage, and the address book of my cellphone.

I admire you for your courage.

10:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your post would be a lot more compelling if you showed as an example of someone who had been locked in jail for one of the slight issues that you mentioned.

Unfortunately you seem to show the same pattern of narcissism that seems to permeate our culture these days. You say we shouldn't care if you delay hundreds of people by 4 minutes. We should "get over it". What if everyone acted as you did? Then how long are the delays?

The most sickening example of this kind of behavior is people who don't immunize their kids. It's okay to risk the health of millions as long as your kid *may* have a slightly less chance of autism. Let the stupid people immunize their kids so you don't have to.

I'm sure when you go to best buy you don't show your receipt, don't show your credit card when you are asked by a merchant etc. Why treat everyone like dirt to assert your "rights"? Oh that's right as long as no one else acts like you it is okay.

Grow up and think about the greater implications of your actions. I don't want to go through life dealing with all the service people you have pissed off just so you can be an asshole.

Maybe you should get a job on Wall St so you can crash the economy all while technically not breaking the law.

Old proverb "Someone who is nice to you but not the waiter is not a nice person"

9:09 PM  
OpenID mrwaffle said...

I've just looked into the laws we have in Australia, it's almost identical. The only questions Customs have a right to ask you are about items that attract duty/tax (eg alcohol) or prohibited items (eg drugs), and bizarrely they can search you for pornographic materials (the people who protested this law were called paedophiles and perverts by the general public. No, I'm not lying).

I'm interested in this situation because I was hassled re-entering Australia several years ago. I was pulled aside for my "suspicious story" (apparently one can't go to Japan for a holiday without attracting suspicion?) and I was searched and questioned all sorts of garbage (eg "did you go out at night? Did you meet any girls? What do you mean you didn't meet any girls, are you gay?" Yes, they actually said that!). I've found that other people have received similarly offensive and intrusive questions (eg a girl had her underwear pulled out and her breast size questioned in public!).

The more people who are aware of the abuse that Customs/immigration officials get away with, the better.

11:01 PM  
Anonymous Michel Blair said...

Sir, as someone who has visited over 160 countries, I can tell you that even entering North Korea is a better experience than arriving at a US border. Even for bona fide European visitors the reception is unpleasant, arrogant and impolite. Furthermore these CBP people lack any culture to understand the world.

8:55 AM  
Blogger negator said...

i'm scared.

11:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say it is a bit galling to be stopped consistently for 20 questions while I watch 5 of 6 Russians breeze through the line next to me during the same time. Moreso since this happens on nearly every return to the US.

Let's face it ... if you are a US citizen residing abroad, you are immediately suspect for having the temerity to actually choose to live somewhere else.

12:58 AM  
Anonymous Dad1701 said...

"Anonymous said...
Wow! Do you suffer from such paranoia in all your endeavors or just when re-entering the country?

You're either clinically paranoid or just a drama queen. Answer "business" or "pleasure" and move on. "

He was and is still correct in taking a stand as he believes and the above "Anonymous" is commonly referred to as a "Prick" in the real world. Keep up the good work.

10:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"How would you respond to a search of your computer?"

More then likely if you have high speed internet, you are visited every once in a while by big brother based on your internet travels and downloads. All software companies in the US must leave a "back door" in all software for "Official Use" if they want to do business in the US. Yes, this includes firewalls and anti-virus also.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Ian Wright said...

Much as I agree with with sentiment and reasoning... has it occurred to anyone that the reason the questions are asked is to help negate the need to hand search the belongings of every returning citizen?

3:53 PM  
Anonymous Reg T said...

I am a new reader of your blog, and I DID read this, in its entirety. I guess that makes me part of the 2%, per "anonymous" at 12:18?

Thank you for this post. It is quite enlightening. Although I refuse to travel by commercial airline anymore, and have no desire to travel outside of the country (my last trip was the Bahamas [third world country] on my own sailboat), I agree wholeheartedly with your choice to be silent. This should naturally extend to ANY contact you have with Federal officers or officials, for the very reasons you relate (and thank you, Martha.)

As a former San Diego police officer, I know that I had developed the mindset that a "citizen" should cooperate if he/she had nothing to hide. I now know that nothing could be further from the truth, especially with the Feds. Why do you think Miranda states, "anything you say CAN and WILL (emphasis mine) be used against you in a court of law." Silence is truly golden, and worth the hassles involved.

6:55 AM  
Blogger halojones-fan said...

I can't help but be reminded of people who drive at exactly sixty-five miles an hour in the left lane and pretend that they can't understand why everyone in the road behind them is so upset.

7:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Get a life loser!

7:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good on you! That's what we need, people continually standing up for their rights, against people who abuse their power, and then maybe we'll turn America into the land of the free and the home of the brave at last.

7:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obvioulsy the border agents cannot read if they are asking the same questions written (and answered by the passenger) on the customs form. Sometimes I am just waiting for someone to lie, to say something like, I was on a trip to a madrasa where I learned some really cool things. Really, what is the point of asking the same questions already written on the form? The Americans are almost as bad as the Canadian border agents, who grill arriving passengers to such excess that it seems they are trying to "trip one up" into confessing something. There has to be a better way to make a border safe than having agents ask the same questions the passenger has already answered, in writing, and to which he has signed his name.

12:08 AM  
Anonymous EL said...

Thanks for your blog post and follow-up to the comments. I also have refused to answer questions when re-entering the US. Namely, about where I will be staying (my street address). It has caused me all sorts of hassle and delays, but it's a principle I decided to stand up for after seeing the disgraceful way US citizens are treated by the immigration officers. That said, the last time I did that the border guard had an old address on file - presumably from my credit card's billing address!

12:20 AM  
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