June 17, 2022

With the summer travel season upon us and hajj just around the corner, CAIR-LA wants you to be informed about your rights while traveling.  Below are some of the most common questions we receive about traveling:  

Can Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers stop and question me at the airport?  

  • Generally, CBP officers may stop, detain, and search any person or item at the border. However, they may not select you for a search based on your religion, race, national origin, ethnicity, or political beliefs.  
  • CBP officers can ask for valid documentation, verify travelers’ identities, question travelers about the purpose of their trip, ask about countries visited, and ask about anything they are bringing back to the U.S.    
  • You should immediately and politely object to any questions about your community, family, religion, politics, or work by saying: “I wish to remain silent. My attorney will contact you.” 
  • Officers can only do invasive strip searches or engage in more intrusive questioning if they have reasonable suspicion you are involved in criminal activity.   

Do I have the right to wear a hijab at the airport and during security screenings?   

  • Yes, and you should assert your right to wear a hijab or any other religious head covering.  
  • If before boarding, the security alarm goes off, Transport Security Administration (TSA) agents may request additional screening where they conduct a pat-down of your hijab or ask you to remove it.  
  • You may request that you pat down your hijab yourself and that the TSA will supervise you as you conduct the pat down.   
  • However, TSA may insist on a pat down or the removal of your hijab. If this happens, you have the right that it be done in a private area by the same gender.  
  • After the pat-down TSA may test for chemical residue.   

Can border officials search my electronics?  

  • The law is unsettled about when and how extensively border officials can search electronics.  
  • In California, the courts have held that border officials can conduct a manual search (going through an unlocked phone without the use of any forensic tools) without any suspicion of wrongdoing.  However, in conducting this search, border officials must limit their search to “digital contraband” (i.e., illegal photographs, stolen passwords, etc.).  
  •  Agents can only engage in a more thorough forensic search, for example, using software to copy a computer’s hard drive and analyze its contents entirely, if they have reasonable suspicion that the phone contains digital contraband.  

Do I have to provide passwords to my electronic devices?  

  • You may refuse to provide a password to unlock a phone or laptop, but this may lead to delay, additional questioning, and the officers seizing your devices for further inspection. 
  • If you are asked to provide a password, you can ask if the agent is ordering or asking you. If you decline, and they order you to provide a password, make sure to state you are doing so under protest and do not give consent to the search.  
  • If an officer searches and/or confiscates your laptop or cell phone, write down their names. If your device is confiscated, ask for a receipt for your property.  

What can I do to protect my digital data?  

  • Consider leaving your main devices at home and using a temporary device for travel.  
  • Encrypt and back up your device’s data to a cloud-based service and erase sensitive data and login information from the device.  
  • Use a strong passcode for your device, and do not use fingerprint or face unlock.  
  • Shut down your device before arriving at the border checkpoint.  

Can I be denied entry to the U.S. if I refuse a CPB agent’s instructions?  

  • U.S. Citizens cannot be denied entry to the U.S. for refusing to produce passwords, provide device access, submit electronic devices for a search, or for refusing to answer questions unrelated to establishing the person’s citizenship or identity (or customs-related questions). 
  • Lawful permanent residents who have previously been admitted to the U.S. and have maintained their status cannot be denied entry for refusing to provide access to a device or for refusing to answer questions unrelated to establishing citizenship or identity (or customs-related questions).  LPRs only have to answer questions establishing their identity and permanent residency (in addition to customs-related questions). Refusal to answer questions will likely cause delay, but officials may not deny entry into the U.S. for failure to answer other questions. LPR status may only be revoked by an immigration judge. Do not give up your green card voluntarily or sign anything you do not understand!  
  • Non-citizen visa holders, refusing to cooperate may lead to your entry being denied.  

What should I be aware of if I want to bring dates and ZamZam from Hajj?  

  • Check in any Zam Zam water bottles that you want to bring back. Airlines will not allow you to carry liquids in quantities over 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) on the plane, so be sure to check in Zam Zam and any other liquids you are transporting.  
  • While there are restrictions against bringing back most kinds of fruits and vegetables, dates are generally allowed to be brought back, but you must declare and present them to U.S. Customs and Border Protection for inspection.  
  • If you are bringing back currency (money, gold bars, etc.) worth more than $10,000, you will need to declare it. Any and all items received or purchased, irrespective of value, must also be declared. A failure to declare may result in an interrogation and confiscation by the CBP.  

If you have any concerns or questions, please complete this incident report form or call us at 714.776.1177(#2) to speak with our Civil Rights Department. Remember our legal advice is free and confidential.