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As I approached the US/Canadian border in Northern Idaho, several US Customs officers flagged me over and began asking me questions as if I had just entered the US from Canada. After they released me, the Canadian Customs officers were perplexed as to why they stopped me. Is this normal for this to happen?

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    While customs are mostly trying to control what enters, they can also worry about what goes out (like undeclared cash) or illegal contraband (like drugs).
    – jcaron
    Commented Feb 20, 2023 at 22:33
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    It happens on occasion leaving the US into Mexico as well. Usually due to something like Amber alert or some other recent crime
    – Midavalo
    Commented Feb 20, 2023 at 22:34
  • @Midavalo … likely the Canadian side would be aware of such an alert… Commented Feb 20, 2023 at 22:39
  • @ZeroTheHero indeed. But things get a lot more complicated when a criminal suspect crosses an international border. US law enforcement would definitely prefer to arrest a suspect before that happens.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 21, 2023 at 0:57
  • @phoog right but my observation is that, if this was an amber alert, the Canadian side would likely have known about it (and I don’t why they would not have told OP). Commented Feb 21, 2023 at 4:49

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The CBP has very broad authority in a "reasonable" proximity of the border, which probably includes the area in Northern Idaho close to the Canadian border. Source:

... the Immigration and Nationality Act 287(a)(3) and copied in 8 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 287 (a)(3), which states that Immigration Officers, without a warrant, may "within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States...board and search for non-citizens in any vessel within the territorial waters of the United States and any railcar, aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle. 8 CFR 287 (a)(1) defines reasonable distance as 100 air miles from the border.

Thus they don't need any reason to inspect your vehicle and question you, in particular in order to search for non-citizens (as the quote above explicitly says). For example, they may have had concerns that you are not a US citizen, or that you're smuggling someone who is not across the border. Doing so in either direction would be illegal.

That may be related to an amber/silver alert or a recent crime reported nearby, as commenters mentioned, or because that particular area is notorious for such behavior, or because they had some intelligence information, or just because they were bored.

They were within their right to question you. This does happen much more frequently at the southern border, but also happens at the Canadian border occasionally (example).


For clarification, since it was mentioned in the comments - CBP checkpoints do not have to be permanent and in predefined locations, that would be defeating the point. A cruiser with two officers in the middle of the road is a checkpoint.

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  • This happened to me in Southern California. We were relatively near the border, but not headed for it, and the 4 of us had 4 different passports (the driver was American.) We expected trouble, but the combination of 4 white people and an expensive car got us waved on without even looking at the passports they had asked for. The driver told me her nanny, from the same South American country as her (the driver's) husband, got significantly more inspection than we did, regularly. Commented Feb 20, 2023 at 23:48
  • The ACLU has a page devoted to The Constitution in the 100-Mile border zone
    – Peter M
    Commented Feb 20, 2023 at 23:53
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    They can't stop you without a reason unless they've set up a checkpoint. In the absence of a checkpoint, they need reasonable suspicion. But the law mentioned in this answer has little bearing on customs and immigration inspection of departing goods and travelers, which are authorized by other provisions of the US Code and the Code of Federal Regulations. Those inspections do not require individualized suspicion because they fall under the border search exception.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 21, 2023 at 1:22
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    @phoog I'm not sure how's anything you said contradicting my answer, even if it was true. The quote doesn't add any condition to the search and boarding rights other than reasonable distance from the border, and the op describes a checkpoint (ad hoc, not a permanent)
    – littleadv
    Commented Feb 21, 2023 at 2:32

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