U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer's patch is seen March 4, 2015, as they unveil a new mobile app for international travelers arriving at Miami International Airport.

After Customs checks of Delta passengers on domestic flight prompt lawsuit, agency to issue new protocols

The settlement of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of nine passengers on a domestic Delta Air Lines flight calls for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to issue new protocols on the checking of passengers on domestic flights.

The passengers on the Delta flight from San Francisco to New York on Feb. 22, 2017, had their identification documents checked as they deplaned at John F. Kennedy International Airport, according to the suit.

CBP said in a public statement after the incident that it was contacted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to help locate an individual “possibly aboard” the Delta flight, who was ordered removed by an immigration judge, according to the lawsuit. However, “The individual was determined not to be on the flight.”

The ACLU alleged that CBP agents violated passengers’ rights against unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

“The Constitution protects passengers deplaning domestic flights just as it protects people on the street or in a car,” said ACLU national security project attorneys Hugh Handeyside and Anna Diakun in a written statement.

The settlement signed Wednesday specifies that it is not routine for CBP to conduct “suspicionless document checks” of passengers deplaning domestic flights. And it calls for CBP to issue a new policy directive saying if Customs officers deal with domestic passengers, they must not prevent those passengers from deplaning, and they must assure passengers that their cooperation is voluntary and that there will be no enforcement consequences if they do not cooperate. In such a scenario, airline staff will be asked to make similar announcements. 

The settlement also calls for the U.S. government to pay attorneys’ fees.

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About the Author

Kelly Yamanouchi
Kelly Yamanouchi
Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.