by Paul Karl Lukacs: I Am Detained By the Feds for Not Answering
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
The only way
to immunize yourself against a false statements charge is to refuse
to speak to federal officers.
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.
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.
way to protect yourself from a false statement charge is to refuse
to speak to federal law enforcement officers.