U.S. Customs: Know Before You Go — Security Measures

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U.S. Customs: Know Before You Go — Security Measures

Editor’s note: The information below was posted on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website (www.customs.gov) as of March 2007 and has been condensed by the editors for publication in book format. Readers should consult www.customs.gov for additional information, updates, or revisions.

ADVANCE PASSENGER INFORMATION SYSTEM (APIS)

INSPECTIONS - INTERAGENCY BORDER INSPECTION SYSTEM

CBP AUTHORITY

CBP INSPECTION PROCESS

ADVANCE PASSENGER INFORMATION SYSTEM (APIS)

A National Security Initiative

The Advance Passenger Information System enables Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to address national security concerns by identifying possible high-risk passengers attempting to enter or leave the U.S., while at the same time facilitating the flow of law-abiding travelers through the clearance process.

All commercial air and sea carriers are required by law to submit advance information on passengers and crew arriving from or departing to international destinations. This information must be sent electronically, prior to arrival in or departure from the U.S.

APIS Fact Sheet

Q: What is the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS)?

A: APIS is an automated system capable of performing database queries on passengers and crew members prior to their arrival in or departure from the United States.

Q: When was APIS initiated?

A: U.S. Customs Service (USCS), in cooperation with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the airline industry, initiated development of APIS as a voluntary program in 1988 to collect biographical information (name, date of birth, nationality, etc.) from air passengers prior to departure for the U.S. from foreign locations. On March 1, 2003, USCS and INS Inspections became part of the Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Q: Are all commercial air and sea carriers required to provide APIS information on their passengers and crew to CBP?

A: Yes. Legislation requires all commercial air and sea carriers operating inbound and outbound to electronically transmit APIS data on all passengers and crew members to CBP.

Q: When is passenger and crew data provided to CBP?

A: Air carriers must electronically transmit their passenger data within 15 minutes of a flight’s departure. The crew member data must be submitted prior to the flight’s departure.

For sea carriers, the proposed rule by INS, dated January 3, 2003, states that a vessel on a voyage of: (1) 96 hours or more must submit the information required in the crew member and passenger manifests at least 96 hours before entering the port or place of destination; (2) less than 96 hours but not less than 24 hours must submit the crew member and passenger manifests not less than 24 hours before entering the port or place of destination; or (3) less than 24 hours must submit the crew member and passenger manifests prior to departing the port or place of departure.

Q: How does CBP analyze the data submitted by each commercial carrier to APIS?

A: The APIS data is checked against the combined federal law enforcement database, known as the Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS). IBIS includes data from the databases of CBP and twenty-one other federal agencies. Names are also checked against the FBI’s National Crime Information Center wanted persons database.

Q: How do the air carriers submit the air passenger data to the APIS?

A: Where available, carriers utilize document readers, which are placed at ticket counters and departure gates around the world to assist them in the collection of APIS data from machine-readable travel documents, such as passports. The data collected by the carrier is then transmitted to CBP. In order to assist local carrier managers, CBP has assigned APIS Port Coordinators at all U.S. international airports nationwide. CBP also designated National APIS Account Managers to assist carriers with issues related to the transmission of APIS data.

INSPECTIONS - INTERAGENCY BORDER INSPECTION SYSTEM

IBIS Fact Sheet

Q: What Is IBIS?

A: IBIS is the acronym for the Interagency Border Inspection System.

Q: Who Uses IBIS?

A: In addition to the U.S. Customs Service and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), law enforcement and regulatory personnel from 20 other federal agencies or bureaus use IBIS. Some of these agencies are the FBI, Interpol, DEA, ATF, the IRS, the Coast Guard, the FAA, Secret Service and the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, just to name a few. Also, information from IBIS is shared with the Department of State for use by Consular Officers at U.S. Embassies and Consulates.

Q: What Does IBIS Provide?

A: IBIS assists the majority of the traveling public with the expeditious clearance at ports of entry while allowing the border enforcement agencies to focus their limited resources on those potential non-compliant travelers. IBIS provides the law enforcement community with access to computer-based enforcement files of common interest. It also provides access to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and allows its users to interface with all fifty states via the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications Systems (NLETS).

Q: Where Is IBIS?

A: IBIS resides on the Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS) at the Customs Data Center. Field level access is provided by an IBIS network with more than 24,000 computer terminals. These terminals are located at air, land, and sea ports of entry.

Q: What Information Is in IBIS?

A: IBIS keeps track of information on suspect individuals, businesses, vehicles, aircraft, and vessels. IBIS terminals can also be used to access NCIC records on wanted persons, stolen vehicles, vessels or firearms, license information, criminal histories, and previous Federal inspections. The information is used to assist law enforcement and regulatory personnel.

Q: Additional Questions?

A: Any concerns you may have as an international traveler or importer about the use or application of IBIS may be address to:

Interagency Border Inspection System
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Freedom of Information Act
Customer Satisfaction Unit
Room 5.5-C
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20229

CBP AUTHORITY

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer’s border search authority is derived through 19 U.S.C. 1467 and 19 C.F.R. 162.6, which states that, “All persons, baggage and merchandise arriving in the Customs territory of the United States from places outside thereof are liable to inspection by a CBP officer.” Unless exempt by diplomatic status, all travelers entering the United States, including U.S. citizens, are required to participate in CBP processing. It is not the intent of CBP to subject travelers to unwarranted scrutiny. The CBP inspection procedures are designed to facilitate the entry of U.S. citizens and aliens who can readily establish their admissibility. CBP officers must determine the nationality of each applicant for admission and, if determined to be an alien, whether or not the applicant meets the requirements of the Immigration and Nationality Act for admission to the United States. CBP officers may, unfortunately, inconvenience law-abiding citizens in order to detect those involved in illicit activities. They are especially aware of how inconvenient and stressful the inspection process may be to those selected for inspection. In such cases they rely heavily on the patience, understanding, and cooperation of the traveler.

Speaking with travelers and closely examining their documentation are some of the ways CBP officers look for mala fide or improperly documented travelers. CBP relies upon the judgment of individual CBP officers to use their discretion as to the extent of examination necessary. However, CBP officers are expected to conduct their duties in a professional manner and to treat each traveler with dignity and respect.

CBP Officers use diverse factors to refer individuals for targeted examinations and there are instances when our best judgements prove to be unfounded. Although CBP does use information from various systems and specific techniques for selecting passengers for targeted examinations, a component of our risk management practices is the use of a completely random referral for a percentage of travelers.

Many travelers wonder if CBP is alerted when an inbound passenger has a warrant for their arrest issued. Yes, CBP is alerted. In the air passenger environment, air carriers transmit passenger information to CBP through the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS). CBP officers also rely on the Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS) to determine which individuals to target for secondary examination upon arrival in the United States.

CBP, along with law enforcement and regulatory personnel from 20 other Federal agencies or bureaus, use IBIS. Some of these agencies are the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Interpol, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives, the Internal Revenue Service, the Coast Guard, the Federal Aviation Administration, Secret Service, and the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service. Information from IBIS is also shared with the Department of State for use by Consular Officers at U.S. Embassies and Consulates.

IBIS assists the majority of the traveling public with expeditious clearance at ports of entry while allowing the border enforcement agencies to focus their limited resources on potential non-compliant travelers. IBIS provides the law enforcement community with access to computer-based enforcement files of common interest. It also provides access to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and allows its users to interface with all 50 states via the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications Systems.

IBIS resides on the Treasury Enforcement Communications System at the CBP Data Center. Field level access is provided by an IBIS network with more than 24,000 computer terminals. These terminals are located at air, land, and sea ports of entry.

IBIS keeps track of information on suspected individuals, businesses, vehicles, aircraft, and vessels. IBIS terminals can also be used to access NCIC records on wanted persons, stolen vehicles, vessels or firearms, license information, criminal histories, and previous Federal inspections. The information is used to assist law enforcement and regulatory personnel.

CBP has the authority to collect passenger name record information on all travelers entering or leaving the United States. This information is strictly used for preventing and combating terrorism and serious criminal offenses with the principal purpose of facilitating the CBP mission to protect our Nation’s borders through threat analysis to identify and interdict persons who have already committed or may potentially commit a terrorist act in the future.

Should CBP determine that an error exists within our system of records, corrective measures will be taken.

CBP INSPECTION PROCESS

When a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer stops a traveler for a closer inspection, it does not necessarily mean that the traveler is suspected of any wrongdoing. In addition to enforcing homeland security related laws, CBP enforces hundreds of laws for other federal agencies.

Inbound Examinations

There are two types of inspections that you may be selected for, one when you enter the country or when you leave. The purpose of the inspection upon entry is to verify the information on the CBP declaration, which has been completed by the arriving international traveler, and to address any possible issues arising from it.

CBP officers are looking for a possible terrorist, terrorist weapons, or narcotics when they choose passengers for examination. This may result in having to undergo a personal search. However, there are many other reasons for a traveler to be referred for a secondary examination. For example, CBP officers may need to determine if:

  • You owe customs duty or other taxes;
  • You have merchandise that you did not declare on your declaration;
  • You have commercial merchandise;
  • You have merchandise that may be considered prohibited or restricted.

In addition, CBP may randomly select a small percentage of international passengers for additional inspections. The program, called Compliance Examination (COMPEX), is designed to validate our knowledge of smuggling trends and patterns.

Outbound Examinations

The purpose of an inspection before leaving the United States is to inform passengers of their legal responsibility to file a Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN) Form 105 when traveling with currency, or other monetary instruments in excess of $10,000 out of the United States. CBP officers may choose passengers for an inspection for a variety of reasons and this may result in having to undergo a personal search. If selected for a personal search, your cooperation and understanding will be greatly appreciated.

Why aren’t all passengers inspected?

Although CBP officers have the authority under federal statutes to inspect everyone and everything entering or leaving the United States, there are two reasons why they do not. First, most passengers are law-abiding travelers. Second, CBP officers concentrate on finding the few passengers who are not obeying the law.

What to Expect During CBP Examination

You may not be searched on any discriminatory basis (e.g. race, gender, religion, ethnic background). A search based on consideration of citizenship or travel itinerary that includes a narcotics source or transit country is not discriminatory.

You are to be treated in a courteous, professional, and dignified manner.

You will receive an explanation of the examination process as it occurs.

You will have the opportunity to speak with a CBP supervisor.

Unless probable cause has been developed, you can request that CBP notify someone of your delay if you are detained more than two hours after the personal search has begun.

Where a body scan option is available, you can request a body scan instead of a pat-down search.

What can I do if I think the examination was not conducted in a professional manner?

If you feel that the examination was not conducted in a professional manner, ask to speak with a CBP supervisor immediately. A CBP supervisor is always available at the facility or by telephone. Supervisors are responsible for ensuring that CBP officers treat all persons with dignity and that they behave in a professional manner.

The CBP processing facility you are in may also employ a CBP Passenger Service Representative (PSR). The PSR is a supervisor specifically trained to handle any concerns or questions you may have.

If you have any additional comments or questions, U.S. Customs and Border Protection wants to hear from you. You may write directly to CBP Headquarters at:

Customer Service Center
Office of Public Affairs
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20229

You will receive a written response in a timely manner. If you provide your daytime phone number, CBP will contact you directly by telephone. You may also get information and provide feedback through the CBP Web site at www.cbp.gov.

Random Exams

One of CBP missions is to ensure that travelers entering the United States comply with U.S. laws. In support of this mission, CBP conducts random compliance examinations (COMPEX).

Essentially, COMPEX examinations involve random selection of vehicles and/or air passengers that ordinarily would not be selected for an intensive examination. By combining the results of these examinations with the results of targeted examinations, CBP is able to estimate the total number of violations being committed by the international traveling public.

When CBP compares the results of the two types of examinations, CBP officers are better able to devise enforcement techniques that prevent the entry of contraband without creating undue delay of law abiding travelers.

It is possible that, upon your entry into the United States from a foreign country, you may be selected for a COMPEX examination and experience a slight delay in your Customs processing. CBP believes that this compliance examination is a critical component of our ability to ensure that our processing procedures are effective.