A recently published analysis by the Institute of Justice has revealed that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and agencies associated with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have seized more than $2 billion from travelers in U.S. airports between 2000 and 2016 using civil asset forfeiture.
Civil asset forfeiture is a tool that allows government agencies to seize property—real estate, vehicles, cash, etc.—suspected of being connected to criminal activity without necessarily charging the property owner for any wrongdoing. Getting back forfeited property often requires the owner to prove in court that it was not involved in a crime.
The Institute for Justice’s analysis (IJ) of every seizure recorded between 2000 and 2016 found over $2 billion was taken from travelers by CBP and DHS. According to the analysis, Washington Dulles International Airport recorded the most seizures in 2016. An estimated $41 million—nearly a quarter of the amount seized nationwide in 2016—was taken from travelers at Dulles, even though the airport only accounts for two percent of the nation’s air travelers.
Other major hub airports that reported large numbers of seizures include New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
“When you consider that these agencies have the ability to seize different types of property wherever they operate, the scope of the entire program is just so large,” said Jennifer McDonald, senior research analyst at IJ and the author of the report. “The reason we focused on cash seizures at airports is because we’ve heard they are some of the most abusive.”
The IJ analysis found half of the recorded seizures were from travelers who allegedly did not declare they were traveling abroad with more than $10,000 in cash. Other common reasons for seizing money was that it was suspected of being involved in smuggling goods, drug trafficking, or there was some violation of state or federal law, according to the IJ report.
Proponents of civil asset forfeiture see it as a necessary tool to thwart criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking, since it allows police to seize cash and other assets that belong to traffickers. However, critics argue state and federal agencies are abusing asset forfeiture to fatten budgets in what has been labeled “policing for profit,” since the cash is eventually redistributed to the agency that performed the seizure. Innocent property owners often become embroiled in the process to the extent that their 4th and 5th Amendment rights are arguably violated.
Anyone who has had their property seized by law enforcement agents should immediately consult an attorney. Recovering seized property can be a long and arduous process. An experienced attorney can help to challenge the seizure and ensure you receive a full refund.
South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has your lawful property been seized using asset forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of South Florida’s most experienced civil asset forfeiture defense attorneys.