All travelers entering the United States, including U.S. citizens, participate in routine customs processing that includes examinations of baggage, electronics, and cars. The impacts of those searches depend—in part—on who is entering, where they’re coming from, and their current immigration status.
Generally, U.S. citizens have the most protections and cannot be denied admission; however, their electronic devices can be detained for months. Foreign visitors have the fewest rights; if denied admission, many have no constitutional right to procedural due process—like notice and a hearing—to challenge their exclusion. Legal permanent residents—green card holders—have more constitutional protections than a visitor, but fewer than a U.S. citizen. If they’re denied admission, they likely have a constitutional right to procedural due process under the Fifth Amendment, but may ultimately be denied admission.
As protecting the border becomes an increasingly important aspect of national security, and the federal government seeks more and more information as a condition of admission, a plethora of issues arise revolving around individual rights at the border, like searches of electronic devices and guidelines for storing information collected from those devices.
For more information, read our policy brief here.