What Rights Do I Have When Interacting With Border Patrol? A Comprehensive Guide by Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law

Office Locations

Proudly Serving Dallas, FT.Worth, San Antonio, Houston.


OFFICE 1700 Pacific Ave. #3750, Dallas, TX 75201


OFFICE 851 Grainger St. Ste 107 Fort Worth TX 76104


OFFICE 110 Broadway St. Ste 370, San Antonio, TX 78205


OFFICE 815 Walker Street, Ste 945, Houston, TX

Your Rights as an Immigrant When Dealing With Border Patrol Agents

The U.S. Border Patrol is an arm of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Border Patrol’s primary mission is to protect the integrity of U.S. borders, and its border patrol agents are charged with detecting and preventing the illegal entry or smuggling of unauthorized aliens into the U.S. through the land, sea, or air.

To help them fulfill their mission, border patrol agents are granted a wide array of powers under U.S. immigration law, including the right to conduct searches and apprehend or detain suspected immigration law violators or alien smugglers.

As an immigrant, it can be very scary when you are stopped by border patrol at a border checkpoint or have to interact with them in any way because of the risk of being taken into custody.

However, just as they have many powers to act, you also have certain rights in such situations depending on your immigration status, including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. These rights are protected under the U.S. Constitution and the Immigration and Nationality Act. But you need to be aware of them before you can insist on their enforcement. 

This guide discusses some of the powers of border patrol agents and the rights you have so you’ll know what to expect and how to act if you ever encounter them. Keep reading to learn more.

Powers of Border Patrol Agents

Border Patrol, along with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is responsible for securing the U.S. borders at ports of entry and preventing external threats, contraband goods, or unauthorized individuals from entering the country. In line with this mandate, they are granted several powers under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) 287(a)(3), including the power to;

  • Board and search motor vehicles, ships, or any other equipment for conveying passengers or goods at border crossings or within a reasonable distance (100 air miles) from the border.

  • Set up checkpoints at public transportation access points such as bus or train stations. During such checks, the agents are permitted to ask travelers questions about their;

    • Immigration status

    • Immigration documents

    • travel plans

    • Luggage.

  • Detain any person suspected to have been involved in an immigration violation.

  • Arrest suspected violators with or without an arrest warrant signed by a judge, depending on the circumstances.

  • Without a warrant, interrogate any individual believed to be an alien concerning their right to be in or remain in the U.S.

  • Issue detainer notices to federal and state law enforcement agencies to allow them to arrest and remove any foreign national in custody of such an agency or to empower the agency to detain such an individual.

The Rights Available to You When You Encounter Border Patrol Agents

Regardless of your immigration status, you have certain rights when dealing with border patrol or other law enforcement officers at the border or within the country. They include the following:

Right To Remain Silent

Even though immigration agents have the right to interrogate you, they cannot compel you to answer questions or respond to their inquiries, especially since your responses may be used against you.

However, if you’re a non-U.S. citizen, refusal to answer the agent’s questions may result in delays or further inspection at the border. The border patrol agent may also deny you entry into the U.S. if you do not answer any of their questions. As such, you must think carefully before exercising this right.

Right Against Unreasonable Searches and Seizures

Border patrol agents have wide powers to conduct searches, especially at the border. However, such searches must be done reasonably and with a warrant in line with the guaranteed constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment.

As such, searches done by border patrol agents must be conducted with a warrant unless in certain exceptional circumstances, including where;

  • The person to be searched consents

  • The search is incidental to a lawful arrest or border search

  • The search is otherwise authorized by law.

Therefore, if an agent requests to search you, your vehicle, or premises, you can refuse the search and request that they show you a valid warrant. If they proceed to search without a warrant, that could violate your constitutional rights, in which case you could file a lawsuit against those involved.

Right To Request Asylum

Asylum, as practiced in the U.S., is a humanitarian solution allowing individuals facing persecution or horrible conditions in their home country due to their race or beliefs to take refuge there.

Foreign nationals who arrive at a U.S. port of entry can request asylum. When that happens, the immigration authorities would investigate their claim and refer them to an immigration judge to ensure they meet the requirements.

Asylum seekers who are granted asylum status would be allowed to remain in the U.S. and may qualify for lawful permanent residency after a while.

However, the road to asylum status is full of difficulties. Once you claim to be an asylum seeker, you may be detained in a detention facility until your case is resolved, which could take a while.

Before exercising this right, you must consider whether or not asylum offers you the most beneficial outcome as an immigrant or whether there are easier pathways to achieve your goals. An experienced immigration lawyer can advise you on your options and help you make informed choices with your immigration plans.

Right To Wear Your Religious Covering

If your religion requires you to use a religious head covering as part of your outfit, you have the right to use such coverings within or at the U.S. border.

However, CBP officers, including border patrol agents, have the power to conduct strip searches if they reasonably suspect that a person is concealing anything unlawful underneath their clothing. In such cases, you may lawfully be asked to remove your head covering and other clothing times from your body.

Right to an Attorney

If you’ve been arrested or detained by border patrol agents, you have the right to be represented by an attorney before answering any questions or signing any papers.

An immigration attorney can inform you of your rights and ensure that you do not say or do anything to incriminate yourself. They can also review the details of your arrest and detention to ensure that the proper procedure was followed and that your rights were not breached.

If there are issues with your immigration status, they may also be able to find legal ways for you to remain in the U.S. and avoid deportation.

Contact Reputable Immigration Lawyers at Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law

As a non-citizen entering or living in the U.S., there’s always a chance that you would encounter border patrol agents or other law enforcement officials seeking to investigate your immigration status or requesting to see your valid immigration documents. In such instances, you must stand up for yourself to prevent your rights from being trampled upon.

If you need support defending your rights in such circumstances, call our skilled immigration lawyers at Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law. We can help you secure your rights and work to ensure that your status in the U.S. is not jeopardized.

Over the years, our dedicated and experienced Immigration Lawyers in Dallas have diligently assisted clients in various immigration-related matters. If you let us, we could do the same for you.

Contact us immediately if you’ve been arrested or detained by immigration officers or if you anticipate any issues with the authorities. Let us help you navigate the complex immigration system and find solutions to your immigration issues.