“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
This is the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the amendment that requires any law enforcement to have a warrant before they are allowed to search any person, home or vehicle within the U.S. However, this amendment does not provide blanket protection to all U.S. citizens at all times. For example, when a citizen is coming into the U.S. from any international border.
According to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 19, Clause 162.5: “A customs officer may stop any vehicle and board any aircraft arriving in the United States from a foreign country for the purpose of examining the manifest and other documents and papers and examining, inspecting, and searching the vehicle or aircraft.”
Because of this law, it is perfectly legal for any U.S. customs agent to search your vehicle with or without your permission, even if you are a U.S. citizen. When you’re coming into the U.S. from a different country, you simply are not protected by the Fourth Amendment.
The Constitution only protects people and vehicles that are already within the U.S., not ones that are entering from another country. A border patrol or customs agent always has the right to ask to search your vehicle, as do police officers.
Searching vehicles that are entering the country from a foreign nation is a necessary precaution to ensure that illegal actions are not taking place.
Simply asking to search a vehicle is not unconstitutional.
If you refuse to let a customs agent or border patrol officer search your car once they’ve asked, you have given them probably cause to search, which makes the search legal under the Fourth Amendment.
Even if your refusal isn’t enough to give probable cause, a customs or border patrol agent can detain you and your car until they have secured a warrant. Thus, the question of unconstitutionality is a non-issue.
Preventing smuggling and human trafficking are just two of the reasons that border searches are not only legal, but necessary.
The federal government has the right to regulate these illegal actions and searching cars at international borders is just one way they choose to do so.
As a U.S. citizen you are granted certain rights, but searches at the border are not a violation of these rights. If the government simply stopped searching every person with U.S. citizenship at the borders, any U.S. citizen could start committing international crimes.
Being a U.S. citizen means that you accept that the government will function under the laws and regulations that have been created since 1775. Nowhere in the Constitution is a citizen’s right to not be searched when entering the country protected.
When you choose to cross an international border you are choosing to give up certain rights, that includes your assumed right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment.
If you don’t want to give up this right, then don’t cross international borders.