What is the “Border Search Exception” to the Fourth Amendment?

As a general rule, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that law enforcement officers have a warrant prior to conduct any searches or seizures designed to find evidence of criminal activity. While there are some exceptions to this general rule, one major exception is the “border search exception,” which often is relevant to law enforcement activity on the Texas-Mexico border.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) specifically allows certain types of warrantless searches and seizures within 100 miles of any external boundary of the U.S. Law enforcement officials can conduct limited searches and seizures, without warrants or probable cause, at border crossings, airports, seaports, and checkpoints set up near the border. This exception is based on the theory that the U.S. has the right to control its borders. However, courts have held this exception to include only brief questioning about immigration status or customs laws; any further searches or seizures must be based on a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

What is the Border Search Exception to the Fourth Amendment?

For example, it is not permissible to pull over a vehicle traveling within 100 miles of a border unless there is reasonable suspicion that an immigration violation or crime has occurred. Likewise, law enforcement officers cannot search a vehicle that they pulled over within 100 miles of a border unless they have either a warrant or probable cause that a crime has occurred.

Unfortunately, there are some situations in which law enforcement officials expand the permissible scope of these warrantless inquiries too far. When this occurs, any evidence obtained as a result of a search or seizure may be subject to suppression or ruled inadmissible by the court. For the most part, the farther away from the border the warrantless search or seizure occurs, the more critical courts may be about the legality of the search or seizure.

No matter the type of immigration issue you are facing, the skilled and knowledgeable immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland are here to assist you. We handle many different types of immigration cases on a daily basis and have the kind of strategic experience and skills that are necessary to reach the desired outcome. By calling our office as quickly as possible after your legal issue arises, we will have the best opportunity to successfully resolve your immigration law case.

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