US Customs and Border Protection Will No Longer Require Mandatory ID Checks Getting Off Domestic Flights

On February 22, 2017 Delta flight DL1583 arrived at New York JFK from San Francisco and passengers were greeted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection demanding to see ID from everyone getting off the aircraft. Apparently they were looking for an individual who had been ordered to be deported.

Except that US CBP has no authority to do that. The ACLU and several passengers on the aircraft sued, and the agency has settled the case. (Copy can be found here.)

Customs and Border Protection agreed to remind their agents that it is not policy to check ID of deplaning domestic passengers. If their officers want to do so, then they must:

  • Make clear compliance is voluntary
  • Make it possible for passengers to deplane without complying
  • Explain to passengers who ask that there will be “no law enforcement consequence” for non-compliance
  • Ask the airline to announce that participation is voluntary

Copyright: andreyuu / 123RF Stock Photo

While the government has greater power within 100 miles of a border where two-thirds of the population lives there are both constitutional and statuatory limits and they’ve conceded that they lack the authority to stop people generally who are arriving on domestic flights and stopping individual passengers requires reasonable suspicion.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Curious what they mean by a “law enforcement consequence,” since that seems to leave a lot of wiggle room for other actions that aren’t law enforcement penalties, strictly speaking, but can be used to enforce compliance.

    For example, if a person enrolled in Global Entry refuses to comply, could they bounce you from the program based on “perceived risks of non-compliance with program terms” or some other such hogwash?

  2. I’m not sure why there’s such an uproar. You have to provide an ID to fly anyway, this is just one more check. They’re not asking for immigration status, just an ID..the same thing you have to provide at the TSA checkpoint on the departure end.

  3. Amazing how soft society is that our law enforcement agents can’t do their job without being sued.

  4. I’m surprised they didnt try to argue that SFO is a US point of entry and considered a border entry which would put everything within 100 miles of SFO within their jurisdiction.

  5. Praise the lord for the good folks at the ACLU for protecting our freedoms & liberties …which have been continually whittled away after 9/11 and the Patriot Act, etc.

    As Billy Bob implies, when did we become a country where law enforcement can act like the Stasi?

  6. :Law enforcement’s job is protect and uphold laws of this country which are based on our Constitution. By their own admission, ICE was doing neither and was actually doing the opposite, which is not their job.

  7. @Mike – The TSA is a Federal agency, is it not?

    “Adult passengers 18 and over must show valid identification at the airport checkpoint in order to travel.”

  8. @D.A. I am a conservative. It would be a cold day in Hell before the ACLU defended any of my rights against the government. The ACLU may have been a great organization once; however, just like the Southern Poverty Law Center, it only defends left wing causes now.

  9. @LAXJeff

    It’s more indicative of how soft our society is. that we have somehow arrived at a mindset that being held up and forced to show ID is acceptable. Not to mention being groped and fondled before even getting onto an airplane.

    Pretty sure the Founders would be mortified by what we allow in the name of “safety” and “security”.

  10. It’s phasing in.

    Starting October 1, 2020, every state and territory resident will need to present a REAL ID compliant license/ID, or another acceptable form of identification, for accessing Federal facilities, entering nuclear power plants, and boarding commercial aircraft. This is what we call “card-based” enforcement. The card, itself, must be REAL ID compliant unless the resident is using an alternative acceptable document such as a passport. The Act does not require individuals to present identification where it is not currently required to access a Federal facility (such as to enter the public areas of the Smithsonian) nor does it prohibit an agency from accepting other forms of identity documents other than documents from non-compliant states (such as a U.S. passport or passport card).

  11. @Surfintx – that simply isn’t true. You can fly without ID. TSA just says for those passengers showing ID, they’ll stop accepting IDs that don’t meet certain requirements. They keep pushing back the date of compliance (and by the way most states certified so far as complying do not fully comply). Do you really think they’ll stop letting passengers fly a month before a presidential election?

  12. You can fly without ID but have to provide essentially the same information as an ID verbally. Name, address etc. so that they can match you in government databases.

    If you’re off the grid and don’t show up in federal systems, I’m not sure they’d let you on the plane without a lawsuit. In that case, you may need to arrive at the airport quite early to allow ample time before the flight for hiring lawyers and filing a federal complaint. Probably quicker to go home and find your ID.

  13. There was talk today of ICE conducting immigration checks of people walking in and out of the 72nd street subway station in NYC. I didn’t see it myself but have heard about it from multiple people. Seems kinda shocking but nothing would surprise me at this point.

  14. Anything that makes the job of ICE harder is a good thing. Man, I would have loved to be on that plane.

  15. I am mixed on this – on the one hand i don’t think it’s a big deal to provide ID at an airport. They were not asking passengers for anything more than what they had already provided by checking in/going through security (and if there were any people who were screened without an ID, i’m sure they could also be re-identified the same way)

    Meanwhile it sounds like this was more of a jurisdictional issue with ICE overstepping their authority. I do wonder however if they could have contacted the TSA, FBI or Local Police to actually request the ID check and then hand over the individual.

    For me the real question here is at what point should the law allow for such an event to occur. Had this been a criminal with a warrant, would they not have the right to apprehend them deplaning? Also did they attempt to first board the plane upon arrival and confront the individual in their assigned seat? If no one was there then maybe an exited ID check would have been understandable. Once again though, where is the line drawn (especially in terms of deportation) between someone who is innocent but here illegally vs someone who is ordered deported for a more pressing reason like committing crime?

    Our modern lives are a delicate balance between security and personal freedoms. It’s a problem that not only civilians deal with but also law enforcement. I think the vast majority of the population, including law enforcement officers, don’t want to live in a totalitarian world and values our concept of freedom and personal liberties. Yet they also recognize that there are laws that have been passed and enforcing them can often put officers in grey areas of conduct (and yes some knowingly step over the line and use clearly illegal methods). In this case i think the ACLU was right to sue and let the courts define the laws more clearly. It sounds to me like the system worked, but maybe i’m wrong?

  16. @JD This would apply to any domestic flight. Flights to the territories differ depending on the immigration and customs arrangements with each territory. For example, PR is within the customs territory of the US and shares immigration policy with the mainland, so flights are fully domestic. However, for example, Guam is outside US customs territory and special visa-waiver rules require immigration checks when flying to HI.

  17. Gary – Can you clarify? I’m not following.

    You must show proof of identification, whether it be an ID card of some type or passport. If you can’t, then you have to go through the TSA verification process which confirms your identity. If they cannot confirm identity, you cannot travel. Just as @Nick said, “They were not asking passengers for anything more than what they had already provided by checking in/going through security (and if there were any people who were screened without an ID, i’m sure they could also be re-identified the same way)”

    The TSA website explicitly states the following:

    Adult passengers 18 and over must show valid identification at the airport checkpoint in order to travel.

    Driver’s licenses or other state photo identity cards issued by Department of Motor Vehicles (or equivalent)
    U.S. passport
    U.S. passport card
    DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
    U.S. Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents
    Permanent resident card
    Border crossing card
    DHS-designated enhanced driver’s license
    Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID
    HSPD-12 PIV card
    Foreign government-issued passport
    Canadian provincial driver’s license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
    Transportation worker identification credential
    U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
    U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential

    Forgot Your ID?

    In the event you arrive at the airport without valid identification, because it is lost or at home, you may still be allowed to fly. The TSA officer may ask you to complete an identity verification process which includes collecting information such as your name, current address, and other personal information to confirm your identity. If your identity is confirmed, you will be allowed to enter the screening checkpoint. You will be subject to additional screening, to include a patdown and screening of carry-on property.

    You will not be allowed to enter the security checkpoint if your identity cannot be confirmed, you chose to not provide proper identification or you decline to cooperate with the identity verification process.

  18. Hitler required id’s to go any where in the Germany empire. Is that how united states wants to be. What happen to your innocent until proven guilty. With forced id’s off a plane you need to prove your not guilty first.

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