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What to Expect at an Immigration Checkpoint

Many of the news stories reported from the border between the United States and Mexico center on immigration checkpoints, which often conjure mental images of busy facilities with long lines of cars, armed border patrol agents, inspection stations, fences, and razor wire. These facilities are formally called “ports of entry,” and they’re operated by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency to screen individuals, currencies, and goods coming into the country.

Ports of entry aren’t limited to land borders. They’re also at international airports, maritime terminals, and even in some countries outside the U.S. Additionally, CBP has the authority to operate fixed and rolling checkpoints on American highways within 100 miles of land borders. To a certain extent, these checkpoints extend the operations of ports of entry, but they add broad elements of law enforcement provisioned by a 1976 Supreme Court decision. At these interior checkpoints, Border Patrol conducts brief stops of any or all vehicles passing through. Suspicion that the vehicle is transporting undocumented migrants isn’t a necessary justification because CBP has jurisdiction.

At ports of entry, CBP agents are tasked with making determinations of admissibility in accordance with federal laws and rules enforced by the State Department, Homeland Security, and other agencies. The permanence of foreigners in the U.S. is contingent upon a continuance of these determinations, which may begin at embassies abroad and follow beyond the ports of entry and interior border checkpoints. One of the first actions Border Patrol agents take at these checkpoints is to ask all occupants of flagged vehicles about their places of birth. Anyone who states he or she was born abroad will be asked additional questions to determine admissibility.

Although CBP agents are barred from formulating suspicion or probable cause based on factors such as ethnicity or foreign accent, such profiling isn’t uncommon at interior border checkpoints. It’s not unusual for Border Patrol agents to board a bus and cherry-pick passengers they believe may be undocumented migrants based on appearance. Constitutional protections don’t stop at these checkpoints. Individuals have a right to not answer any questions or say anything at all unless an attorney is present, but this doesn’t apply to foreigners who have been admitted at ports of entry and given temporary visas.

Let’s say an IT professional from Pakistan is hired by a Southern California company through the H-1B visa program. If the IT professional is stopped by CBP agents at a checkpoint near San Diego, the conditions of his or her visa state that he or she must answer questions and provide documentation. In this case, the IT professional can ask the agents to let him or her contact his or her San Diego immigration lawyer for reassurance, but a flat-out refusal to cooperate may compromise his or her admissibility status. Foreigners who are legal residents must show their green cards, but they don’t have to answer questions beyond the information provided on their identification documents.

Remaining silent at an immigration checkpoint will more than likely trigger a secondary inspection and perhaps a search of belongings, but agents must obtain permission. In cases when foreigners are steadfast in requesting attorneys to be present, they may be allowed to go on their way if the agents cannot easily justify suspicion. However, agents could also invoke probable cause if they agree to await the lawyer’s arrival. 

If you have any questions about immigration, contact trustworthy immigration attorneys in San Diego, CA. The lawyers at KS Visa Law have vast experience with every aspect of immigration law, and they’re the attorneys to call on when you need the most up-to-date information about immigration regulations and how to navigate the immigration system. Call KS Visa Law today at 858-874-0711 to schedule an appointment.

April 2024