Here's what to do if you're confronted by border agents


  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
The crackdown is underway: Last year and the beginning of this one have brought what seems to be a purge of undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

It’s a trend that’s increasingly apparent in the case of Florida, where, as of 2014, more than 4 percent of the state’s total population consisted of undocumented immigrants, according to data provided by the American Immigration Council. In Florida, there have been several incidents this month that serve as prime examples of just how far authorities will go.

On Jan. 11, in connection with a sprawling countrywide raid by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, four Orlando-area 7-Eleven stores were raided as part of a clampdown on companies hiring undocumented workers. No arrests were made in Central Florida; however, at least 21 individuals were apprehended across the nation.

On Jan. 19, agents with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection boarded a Greyhound bus at a Fort Lauderdale station to ask passengers for legal documents that proved their citizenship, according to video evidence provided by the Florida Immigrant Coalition. As a result, a woman of Jamaican descent – who was on her way home to Miami after visiting her grandchild for the first time in Orlando – was detained.

And on Jan. 26, CPB agents boarded yet another Greyhound bus at a Fort Lauderdale station to question passengers’ citizenship. Per the FLIC, a native Trinidadian man – who had reportedly lived in Miami for more than 12 years with no criminal record – was taken into custody on his way to visit a friend in Fort Myers.

Should these events come as a surprise? For the sake of common decency, the short answer is yes. But that’s not the case when measuring how our political climate has approached the issue of immigration – for instance, in 2017 arrests of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. increased by 75 percent.

So in light of that, for the undocumented, there’s never been a better time to know where you stand in terms of your legal rights, especially if you find yourself in a similar situation to what’s mentioned above.

The situation at hand and how it’s legal

As it’s written, the Fourth Amendment protects Americans from random and arbitrary stops and searches. But that doesn’t necessarily apply to those who fall within the government’s 100-mile “border” zone – what’s referred to as an “external boundary” within the geography of the United States.

When the U.S. Department of Justice adopted these border zones in 1953, there were fewer than 1,100 agents patrolling our nation’s borders. Today, there are more than 21,000.

Within those 100-mile zones, due to what could be called extra-Constitutional powers on the part of federal officials, CPB isn’t required to obtain a warrant or even operate under suspicion of wrongdoing to justify conducting any routine searches, such as going through someone’s luggage or their vehicle at an immigration checkpoint.

That doesn’t mean agents’ methods are constitutionally exempt within these zones. While agents are afforded a number of extra powers in certain circumstances, they’re still not allowed to actually pull someone over without “reasonable suspicion” of an immigration violation or crime and they still can’t search a vehicle without a warrant or “probable cause.”

However, ideas of “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause” have a way of getting tricky when open to interpretation by agents, such as the case of the Greyhound buses in Fort Lauderdale.

These border zones may be larger than you’d imagine. These 100-mile spreads actually cover (or nearly cover) a number of states in their entirety – and that includes Florida. In fact, about two-thirds of the country’s population lives within these border zones. That alone equates to more than 200 million citizens.

Your legal rights, according to the ACLU of Florida

Even if you’re undocumented, you have the legal right to tell border agents:

—“I am not required to answer your questions about my immigration status and do not wish to do so.” (If you have valid immigration papers at the time, you should provide them. However, the ACLU says you should never provide fake documents if that’s what you have at your disposal.)

—“I do not consent to a search of my belongings.”

—At any point, even while detained, you can say, “I wish to remain silent.”

You also have the right to:

—Video record the interaction.

—Tell others they have rights and should use them, but do not block officers from performing their duties.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club for as little as $5 a month.