Many times, people can travel domestically and internationally without issue. But sometimes, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), or another agency delays travelers on their journeys or prevents them from traveling. These agencies may also require travelers to undergo rigorous secondary screenings.

If you find that you have been repeatedly detained for secondary screening, you should file an inquiry with the Department of Homeland Security through the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program.

In this article, the National Security Law Firm team discusses why you may be subjected to secondary screening and/or denied entry or exit at the airport and how you can stop this from happening in the future.

What Types of Screening Does the TSA Conduct?

To identify and address potential safety and national security issues, the TSA and other federal organizations conduct screenings even before travelers arrive at the airport. Typically, the CBP, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigations, intelligence agencies, and other federal agencies work together to achieve this goal.

These departments may conduct background checks, gather additional information about travelers, and check travelers’ names against lists. For example, the agencies may check if someone’s name appears on the No-Fly or is related to a name on the No-Fly list. Because of security concerns, the agencies typically do not disclose whether someone’s name is or is not on a watchlist.

The TSA and other agencies also conduct on-site screenings. For example, they perform scans of people’s bags and indirectly search individuals’ bodies and clothing using electronic wands or devices. The TSA and other agencies impose restrictions on the types and quantities of items people can bring on the aircraft to limit the potential for security threats further.

What Is a Secondary Screening?

Sometimes, the TSA, CBP, or another organization may flag a traveler for additional screening. Sometimes, the abbreviation “SSSS” (Secondary Security Screening Selection) may appear on the person’s boarding pass. Other times, the organization may make an ad hoc (or seemingly ad hoc) decision to subject someone to a secondary screening process.

This procedure can delay a person’s travel plans, but it is crucial that they understand and continuously assert their rights during the process. Additional screening may be tedious, but resisting the process, being “too compliant,” and signing away one’s rights can cause problems. Further, people should be aware of the reasons for the secondary screening and note if they receive poor treatment. Despite what the TSA or CBP may say, they may not have the authority to detain someone for as long as or how they did.

Can I Be Treated Differently by CBP Agents at a U.S. Airport or land port of entry because of my race, religion, or national origin?

No. Stereotyping and profiling people based on immutable characteristics is against the United States Constitution and laws. Such characteristics include someone’s gender, national origin, ethnicity, race, religion, or other protected group membership. Thus, officers cannot pull you aside for secondary screening based on race, religion, or ethnicity. In practice, however, this is difficult to enforce.

What Are My Constitutional Rights in Secondary Screening?

Individuals subjected to secondary inspection by airport or border officials are subject to more intrusive questioning. CBP takes the position that travelers do not have a right to an attorney during questioning. If this happens to you, here is what you need to know.

  • United States Citizens – Besides answering customs-related questions, U.S. citizens only have to answer questions about their identity and citizenship. Your refusal to answer other questions will likely result in a delay. Still, officials cannot legally deny your entry into the U.S. so long as you have established your identity and citizenship.

  • Lawful Permanent Residents – Besides answering customs-related questions, LPRs or green card holders must only answer questions establishing their identity and permanent residency. Your refusal to answer other questions will likely result in delay, but officials cannot legally deny your entry into the U.S.

  • Others – Refusal to answer questions could lead to officers denying your entry into the U.S.

What Are My Rights When Agents Search My Person or My Belongings?

CBP claims it can search and confiscate laptops, phones, cameras, and other electronic devices upon entry into the U.S. without any suspicion of wrongdoing. They also claim that they can make a copy of the information found on those devices. If officials confiscate any of your electronic devices, write down their identifying information, including their badge number, and ask for a receipt.

Regarding personal searches, officers can only do a strip search if they have reasonable suspicion that you are involved in criminal activity.

What Are Typical Reasons for Secondary Screenings?

An individual can be subjected to secondary screening for anything ranging from a case of mistaken identity to the fact that the individual is currently under federal investigation. In many cases, these problems arise because an innocent traveler has the same name as someone on the national anti-terrorism watch list. Thus, if there is a “John Smith” on a federal watch list, other people with that name may encounter difficulties when they travel until the authorities are satisfied that they are not the John Smith on the watch list.

Sometimes, persons can be subjected to secondary screening due to past criminal convictions, active retraining orders, or outstanding warrants. Other times, it can be due to a travel record that did not accurately record your timely exit from the country and incorrectly shows that you overstayed your authorized time on a previous entry. Secondary screening may also result from what some believe is bias towards certain groups of people. Secondary inspection can also be caused by fingerprints that were incorrect or of poor quality, along with a myriad of other issues.

Oftentimes, the government relies on inaccurate or incomplete records. If you do not understand why you are being singled out for additional screening, you should find out why.  The experienced lawyers at The National Security Law Firm can help you answer this question. Depending on the facts of your case, we may recommend and assist you in the filing of a claim for more information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). FOIA allows you to request copies of all information that the CBP, or any other relevant government agencies has on you.

After receiving this information, we can then pinpoint why you are being targeted at entry points and then determine how best to proceed to correct any errors or inaccuracies in your records to prevent future travel issues.

What Are My Legal Options If I Am Subjected to an Unlawful Secondary Screening or Denied Entry or Exit at the Airport?

If someone is subjected to an unlawful secondary screening or denied entry or exit at an airport, they can file a Department of Homeland Security’s Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP) claim. Through TRIP, we can correct any errors or inaccuracies in your records causing you to undergo secondary screening.

What Is the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program?

The Department of Homeland Security created the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program to provide individuals with an avenue to address issues with secondary searches. Further, TRIP allows individuals to file complaints regarding wrongful travel delays and denials. If people believe they are wrongfully on a watchlist (i.e., because they are repeatedly subjected to secondary screenings), they can file a claim with TRIP to help address the issue.

Who Can Use DHS TRIP?

Anyone who experiences the following issues may be able to file a TRIP claim:

  • You have been denied or delayed airline boarding;

  • You have been denied or delayed entry into or exit from the U.S. at a port of entry or border crossing;

  • You have been repeatedly referred to additional (secondary) screening;

  • Not being able to print a boarding pass from an airline ticketing kiosk;

  • You were told that you are on the “No Fly List;”

  • You believe that the government’s records of your personal information is inaccurate.

DHS lists additional reasons why people may use the TRIP application process.

What Is the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program Application Process?

To submit a claim with TRIP, you or your representative typically file an online application. When you apply, a host of agencies receive and review your application and submit their response to the appropriate agency. Once this process is complete, DHS files a final determination and sends this to you.

What Documents Do I Need to Submit a TRIP Claim?

To submit a TRIP claim, you must provide a legible copy of the biographical page of your unexpired passport or other approved forms of identification issued by the US government. Examples of documents DHS accepts include the following:

  • Driver’s license,

  • Birth certificate (if the person is under the age of 18),

  • Military or government identification card,

  • Certificate of citizenship or naturalization,

  • Immigrant or non-immigrant visa,

  • Alien registration,

  • Petition or claim receipt,

  • I-94 admission form,

  • FAST, SENTRI, NEXUS, or SEVIS card, or

  • Border crossing card.

If your representative (such as an attorney) will submit the form on your behalf, you must complete and submit DHS TRIP Form 590.

Privacy Concerns

As explained in the associated Privacy Impact Assessment, DHS can use the data submitted in a TRIP application for purposes other than addressing the applicant’s concerns. For example, they may use it to further a criminal investigation or to verify additional information. But DHS must protect the confidentiality of the information they receive. Individuals concerned about how the DHS will use their information should talk to an experienced TRIP attorney.

Tracking the Status of the Claim

When people apply, DHS assigns them a Redress Control Number, which applicants can then use to track the status of their TRIP claim. DHS may ask for additional information about what occurred along the way, so it is essential to continue to check the status to ensure you do not miss any updates.

Once all agencies have completed their reviews and made any necessary updates to their records, TRIP sends you a final determination letter.

Contact a TRIP Lawyer at the National Security Law Firm for Help

When embarking on any endeavor against the government, having an experienced and knowledgeable attorney is critical. Our team consists of field leaders who have worked for the government before transitioning to private practice.

Our TRIP attorneys can help you navigate the TRIP claim process. We have decades of knowledge and hands-on experience in the national security arena. If you were mistreated in a secondary screening or denied entry or exit at an airport, contact our dedicated team today by calling 202-600-4996.