U.S. Law Center

The U.S. Border Patrol’s authority

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Border Patrol agents work to prevent people from crossing the borders illegally and making it to cities such as Los Angeles and elsewhere in the United States. Patrols are tasked with the mission to protect the country from those who would or may cause harm, and they have the authority to apprehend those without proper documentation, and detain and deport them.

The American Civil Liberties Union notes that in order to initiate a traffic stop, a Border Patrol agent must have a concrete reason to suspect that an immigration law is being violated. To search a vehicle, there must be even stronger grounds to believe that the immigrant has done something illegal. But, agents do not need reasonable suspicion to conduct a search at a U.S. port of entry.

According to the ACLU, Border Patrol agents may at times abuse their power by conducting stops, searches and seizures of property that are not within their rights to perform. Federal law does provide agents with greater authority when operating within 100 miles of the U.S. borders, a range which includes Los Angeles and many other large U.S. cities. Setting up immigration checkpoints is a legitimate function of Border Patrol. However, if an agent goes beyond the approved procedure of inquiring about a person’s legal status, it may be a violation of that person’s rights.

The International Business Times reports that deported immigrants are guaranteed to receive their personal property when they are released, under DHS policy. However, the ACLU claims that Border Patrol agents are allegedly seizing personal property such as money, clothing and identification, and keeping it. The ACLU alleges that at least 26 incidents concerning this practice have occurred in its new complaint filed with DHS.

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