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Sep 10

What happens if you refuse to answer an immigration official’s questions?

Paul Lukacs, a US citizen, flies back into the US and, exercising his Fifth Amendment rights, refuses to answer any of the immigration officer’s questions. He is detained for about 90 minutes and then released. He blogs about it. The blog post receives many comments after appearing on BoingBoing and other sites. He answers the comments en masse.

Why were you in China?” asked the passport control officer, a woman with the appearance and disposition of a prison matron.

“None of your business,” I said.

Her eyes widened in disbelief.

“Excuse me?” she asked.

A few observations from me.

1. A lot of people criticizing Lukacs point out that although he is within his rights to do this, it’s disrepectful to the customs officer (who’s just doing their job) and other passengers (who are delayed). These are all valid points, but I must admit it is heartening to know that the system works. It’s no good having a right if you can’t exercise it. The ability to exercise a right with pragmatic results is as important as having the right itself.

2. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re playing with fire. Sure, you have a right against self-incrimination, and you can’t be convicted for merely exercising that right. But there seem to be all these laws floating around these days which allow the government to detain people without charge for a short period of time (I think the US is maximum 24 hours? Sixth Amendment/habeus corpus etc.). One misstep and you could have caused yourself much more trouble than it was worth.

3. Don’t try this in other countries. I’ve heard Japan can detain for up to 23 days without charge, and without access to a lawyer or the proverbial phone call. (How scary is that?)

4. A country can’t prevent a citizen from re-entering his or her own country. Citizenship is regarded as a basic human right, and as part of this right, is the right to enter the territory of your country. Statelessness can leave someone in legal limbo, and there are more problems with this than you might initially think.

  9:24pm  •  Law  •   •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment