Category: News

Coming Reforms to CBP Regulations

A few weeks back, the Commercial Customs Operations
Advisory Committee (COAC), met in Washington DC. COAC is a 20-person committee that was established by Congress, and it “provides advice and recommendations to CBP and the Department of the Treasury on the commercial operations of CBP and trade-related interdepartmental functions.”

The press release for the event gives us some insight into the ongoing work to reduce and simplify the regulations used by U.S. Customs & Border Protection. The end-result could be 35% reduction to the text of the regulations:

Updating the regulations was a collaborative effort. “We had subject matter experts go section by section through the regulations and identify the pain points, the problems, the language, whatever the difficulty was,” said James Swanson, director of cargo, security and control in CBP’s Office of Field Operations. “This was a big effort. But it was important to industry and quite frankly, it was important to me. It makes it easier to enforce and easier to identify what the regulations are. We expect to reduce the overall size and text of the regulations by about 35 percent,” he said.

They also issued a regulatory reform issue paper, that goes into a little more detail on non-public regulation reforms:

  • Revenue modernization
  • Modernizing the vessel arrival process to be automated and streamlined
  • Updating the regulations to account for eBond functionality in ACE
  • Free Trade Zone modernization (also a COAC working group)
  • Advance Electronic Data for international mail
  • Export manifest modernization
  • Changes to the in-bond process (also a COAC working group)
  • Bonded warehouse modernization
  • Liquidation process modernization
  • Updating regulations for ACE functionality

ACE is among the most exciting things to happen with CBP for a customs practitioner in a long time; it streamlines (i.e., makes paperless) the protest filing process. That, coupled with the online publication of the bulletin notices of liquidation, makes life much easier and much more efficient for us customs lawyers.

Updating the regulations for ACE functionality and liquidation modernization should prove to be the most enticing changes to the regulations for practitioners.

USMCA; United States Mexico Canada Agreement

The re-negotiation (and renaming) of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) is one step closer to completion, and will go forward to be finalized by the governments of the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

The newly renamed agreement is the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMC Agreement), and the full text of the agreement is now available. The United States Trade Representative’s office has posted a series of fact sheet with key points of the new agreement.

The White House issued its own fact sheet: President Donald J. Trump Secures A Modern, Rebalanced Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico

President Trump held a news conference on the topic of the trade agreement. You can watch the conference by following this link on C-Span.


A September 28 2018 notice of seizure and intent to forfeit cash seized at Detroit Metro airport.

Detroit Metro Airport Customs Money Seizure; September 28 2018

Today Customs published a notice of all property seized by Customs that is currently pending administrative forfeiture proceedings, as they do each week on  Some weeks, the forfeiture notices for Detroit Metro Airport are uninteresting; some weeks they are interesting, but don’t involve cash.

But this week, the notice is not necessarily as interesting as last week’s 3-days-to-forfeiture post last week, but it is nevertheless loaded with 4 separate cash seizures with a total value of $90,138.36. In fact, it only has cash seizures. Have a look:

DEADLINE TO FILE A CLAIM: November 27, 2018


2018380700090101-0001-0000, Seized on 04/30/2018; At the port of DETROIT AIRPORT; US CURRENCY RETAINED; 202; EA; Valued at $15,127.00; For violation of 31USC5317, 31USC5316

2018380700090101-0002-0000, Seized on 04/30/2018; At the port of DETROIT AIRPORT; EURO RETAINED; 7; EA; Valued at $263.36; For violation of 31USC5317, 31USC5316

2018380700118001-0001-0000, Seized on 07/14/2018; At the port of DETROIT AIRPORT; U.S. Currency Retained; 395; EA; Valued at $34,042.00; For violation of 31 USC 5332(c), 31 USC 5332(a), 31 USC 5317(c)(2), 31 USC 5316(a)(1)(A)

2018380700121501-0001-0000, Seized on 07/23/2018; At the port of DETROIT AIRPORT; US Currency Retained; 193; EA; Valued at $19,300.00; For violation of 31 USC 5317(c)(2), 31 USC 5316(a)(1)(A)

2018380700125701-0001-0000, Seized on 08/07/2018; At the port of DETROIT AIRPORT; U.S. Currency Retained; 235; EA; Valued at $21,406.00; For violation of 31 USC 5317(c)(2), 31 USC 5316(a)(1)(B)

All these cases are from seizures that occurred between April and August, 2018. That probably means that someone has tried, and failed, to get the money back by filing an administrative petition. Some people (some of them lawyers), think it’s very easy to get seized cash back from Customs at Detroit Metro airport.

And it can be, if you know what you’re doing. But if you’ve had cash seized by Customs, I can gaurantee you that you don’t know what you’re doing. A customs cash seizure is totally avoidable. So if you’ve had it ceased, you really should not try to help yourself.

Have you had a customs money seizure at Detroit Metro Airport?

If you have a customs money seizure at Detroit Metro airport, don’t do it yourself. Cash seizure cases are often packed with with difficulties and unforeseen challenges. Instead of risking forfeiture and the total loss of your money, do the smart thing and call us for a free currency seizure consultation and make use of the free customs money seizure legal guide we publish on this website.

CBP's Hold Harmless and Release Agreement Form

Class Action and CBP’s Hold Harmless and Release Agreement

An interesting cash seizure issue has been percolating across the Internet that arises from the class action (lawsuit) filed by a Texas nurse who is originally from Nigeria, though now a U.S. Citizen. As I understand it (after briefly skimming the complaint), she attempted to leave the country with around $40,000. She did not report the money to CBP as required, and so the money was seized for a failure to report.

What happened after her cash was seized?

Upon receiving the notice of seizure, instead of filing a petition she filed a claim. This is generally not the best way to get money back. When a claim is filed, you request the government to start judicial forfeiture proceedings, rather than administrative. I am greatly simplifying the process but, basically, when a claim is filed a judge will hear the case and eventually, some day, theoretically, you will have a trial by judge or jury about whether or not you can get seized money back. If a petition is filed, you instead are asking CBP to decide the matter internally without putting it before a judge.

Did the government file a complaint for forfeiture?

In this case, because she filed a claim the U.S. attorney had the discretion to decide whether or not they would pursue judicial forfeiture, or not. As luck would have it, the U.S. attorney declined by not filing a complaint for forfeiture. The way the plaintiff’s attorneys read the law (which so far, I agree with), this means CBP must return the money, immediately. Instead of doing that, CBP asked her to sign a hold harmless and release agreement that gave up her right to sue the government for seizure, and anything incidental (interest, emotional distress, etc.).

She refused to sign the hold harmless and release agreement, and CBP refused to return the money. Now she is suing the government for a whole host of things, including for a return of the cash. I don’t blame her for standing on principle; but she must not need the money terribly bad to tie this up in the courts.

What will the effect of this case be?

This case is very interesting, and raises a number of questions; first and foremost is, why did the U.S. attorney’s office not file a complaint for forfeiture once the claim was filed? I think they did not realize that once a claim is filed and a complaint for forfeiture is not filed timely, the property must be returned. In other words, someone at the U.S. attorney’s office did not realize the full consequences of what they were doing and probably believed that administrative forfeiture proceedings may still go forward.

Secondly, perhaps there were staffing issues (i.e., not enough personnel) that prevented the U.S. attorney’s office from wanting to handle judicial forfeiture proceedings, so they put it off.

In my experience, cash seizures at George Bush Intercontinental Airport are pretty infrequent compared with other ports. There might not be a lot of push to process these cases, especially so in Texas. With drugs and other contraband pouring across the border, why spend time seizing money likely to be from legitimate sources? They have better places to direct their resources then pretty obviously legitimately derived money.

What does this mean for people who have their cash seized?

This case, no matter the outcome, probably has little meaning for people who have had their cash seized. First, anytime a client of mine has filed a claim seeking judicial forfeiture, the U.S. attorney’s office has fought the forfeiture, usually tooth-and-nail. I have no reason to believe that this will result in less cash seizures nationally. I also do not believe this reflects a desire by the government to avoid judicial forfeiture if a claim is filed. I think this is probably a very unique case. Therefore, I see no reason to start filing claims instead of petitions in the hopes of getting back the money without a fight, and without proof of its source and use.

If this plaintiff wins her case, this will only mean that if a claim is filed and a case is not started by the government, you get the money back without having to sign a hold harmless and release agreement. I believe that this type of situation has very, very infrequently happened, and so the class number of people involved, although not insignificant, will be small.

Can she still be charged criminally for a failure to report cash?

Yes, this woman can still be charged criminally for a failure to report cash — she remains in that legal jeopardy. The failure to report transporting more than $10,000 in cash into or from the country is a criminal offense, and the government has 5 years from the date of seizure to charge her with this crime.

It does not matter that the money was legitimately derived or intended for legitimate uses, she still committed the crime of not reporting the cash; seizure is only one potential penalty, the others are arrest, fine, and imprisonment.

I suspect that the government is now weighing heavily the option of criminally charging the woman. I hope her attorney’s explained this risk to her. Maybe some things are worth waiting 5 years for.

In any event, I will be keeping a watchful on this case as it develops. Stay tuned for updates.

A pile of $20 bills on a table.

CBP Seizes $11k Cash from Vietnamese Couple at Dulles

Customs officers at Dulles airport seized more than $11,000 from a couple traveling to Vietnam. According to the story, they originally reported traveling with $4,000; then changed that to $7,000; then made a written report that they had $9,000; and ultimately, were found to have $11,822.

The law which requires the report, 31 USC 5316, essentially requires that you make the report in writing. Technically, if you are about to leave the country and have made no effort to report the money to CBP, you are in violation of the reporting requirement — because clearly you are attempting to break the law (by act or omission). So, even if this couple had made a fully accurate report the first time they were asked, they could still be responsible for a currency reporting violation under 31 USC 5316.

The other important thing to note is that the report must be accurate down to the penny, or the reporter would still be in violation of the reporting requirement, and could have all their cash seized by Customs.

You can read all about the currency reporting laws, and what to do when you’ve had your money seized by accessing our customs money seizure legal guide.

STERLING, Va. — U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers continue to enforce a variety of U.S. laws at Washington Dulles International Airport, including [ . . . ] seizing $11,822 of unreported currency from a Vietnam-bound couple.

CBP is not releasing the travelers’ names because none was criminally charged.

During outbound inspection operations Tuesday, CBP officers seized $11,882 in unreported currency from a couple boarding a flight to Vietnam.  The couple verbally reported that they possessed $4,000.  After officers read the currency reporting requirements, the couple stated they possessed $7,000, then they wrote down that they possessed $9,000.  An examination revealed currency in the woman’s purse, and additional currency concealed in one of two pairs of pants the man wore.

Travelers may carry as much currency as they wish into and out of the United States.  Federal law requires that travelers must report all U.S. and foreign monetary instruments totaling $10,000 or greater on a U.S. Treasury Department financial form.  None of the currency is taxed.

CBP officers provided a humanitarian monetary release of $322 to the couple, and released them to continue their travel.

Has Dulles CBP seized your cash?

If Dulles CBP seized your cash, beware that you stand to lose a lot of it because of their aggressive penalization of bulk cash smuggling and structuring offenses. You should contact our customs lawyer for a free cash seizure consultation by clicking the contact buttons on this page.


U.S. CBP seized cash hidden in a shipping container at the San Juan, Puerto Rico seaport.

CBP Seizes $29,000 Smuggled at San Juan

A few weeks back, CBP announced another recent seizure of unreported cash at the San Juan seaport in a shipment of cargo containers. A customs cash seizure in Puerto Rico also happened back in May. The story makes the same curiously absent identification of the event as being an incident of bulk cash smuggling, not just a failure to report.

In this case, the seizure of cash happened when U.S. Customs & Border Protection offciers were examining cargo containers and discovered some anomalies (presumably when imaging) a 55 gallon drum. The cash was destined for the Dominican Republic, as below:

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers from the Anti-Terrorism Contraband Enforcement Team (A-TCET) seized approximately $29,000 in unreported currency in an outbound enforcement action at the San Juan Seaport.

The interception occurred Oct. 21 while CBP officers were examining cargo containers at a CBP facility.  CBP officers conducted an intensive secondary examination of a container and discovered anomalies on a 55 gallon storage drum. Further examination revealed the hidden currency.  The container was destined to the Dominican Republic.

This is interesting because it again demonstrates that the currency reporting law applies equally to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.

Have you had cash seized by CBP in Puerto Rico?

If CBP seized your cash in Puerto Rico, you need a lawyer. That’s what we do. Read our trusted customs money seizure legal guide and can contact our customs lawyer for a free cash seizure consultation by clicking the contact buttons on this page.

The back of a CBP officer's shirt reading "CBP Federal Officer" in bold yellow letters.

CBP Officer allegedly steals $15,000 from mail

Most CBP officers I’ve encountered ultimately act ethically, even if I occasionally disagree with an overly aggressive approach to certain enforcement measures. But, even one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. In fact, there have been a few bad apples at CBP over the years. You can read about it at Crossing the Line: Corruption at the Border. Note that though I link to it, I don’t necessarily agree with its contents where opinions are offered.

I say this to lead up to a story about a U.S. Customs & Border Protection officer from California who was recently charged with stealing $15,000 worth of checks from a mail facility. The full story is available at, but I’m reproducing a portion here. I’m also redacting the name of the accused because I think it’s only fair.

LOS ANGELES, CA – A longtime U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer from Van Nuys is expected in court Monday to face federal charges alleging he stole checks worth over $15,000 from a mail facility and arranged to have an accomplice deposit them.

[He . . . ] was arrested Tuesday without incident by special agents with the FBI and subsequently released on his own recognizance, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The arrest came after [the accused], who has been a customs officer since 2008, was named in an eight-count indictment returned by a Los Angeles federal grand jury last week.

According to the indictment, [the accused] was assigned to a U.S. Postal Service sorting facility in Torrance, where his duties included examining mail and parcels coming into the country for contraband, counterfeit goods, and possible fraudulent financial checks or credit cards.

The [accused] allegedly stole mail that contained traveler’s checks and third- party checks, giving the stolen checks to an accomplice who deposited them into accounts at Bank of America, prosecutors said.

“Americans must be able to trust officials handling their mail which conveys highly valuable information, to include our identification and financial data,” said Deirdre Fike, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office. “The FBI is committed to holding accountable those, like [the accused], who abuse their positions of trust and threaten our security for personal gain.”

We get a lot of calls from people who have sent cash in the mail and have had it seized by U.S. Customs & Border Protection. One time, we also got a call from someone who had cash seized and was contacted by someone who identified themselves as a customs agent and demanded that, in order to release the cash, she send him some money as a “penalty.” The caller said she never received any sort of written notice about the seizure, which sounded awfully suspicious to us at the time.

If you’ve had money seized by U.S. Customs & Border Protection, get a lawyer. You can use our currency seizure legal guide to educate yourself on the process or you can get a free currency seizure consultation and we can discuss the procedures for getting your seized money back.

Why Immigrants Have So Much Cash

I have always had a great respect for immigrants. Half of my my family – wife included – were either born or live overseas, and the vast majority of my law firm’s clients are also immigrants to the United States or are foreign-born and permanently live overseas. So if I didn’t like and respect immigrants, I’d be pretty miserable. But, lucky for me, I’m quite happy.

As a natural born U.S. citizen, of course, I usually think like an American. If I don’t always think like an American, I at least understand how most Americans would think on any particular topic. So when I talk about my work with currency seizures by Customs — about people traveling with more than $10,000 cash — most Americans are incredulous.

They ask, “Why travel with so much cash?” “Where do they get the money?” and “HOW did they save so much cash?” Most Americans consider it suspicious, and unlikely.

Conversely, many of my (immigrant/foreign born) client’s will say things like, “It’s not a lot of money!” with all seriousness. I’ve also had clients tell me they just don’t feel comfortable unless they have at least $10,000 on them when they travel. And I’ve had clients say sarcastically, “Is $10,000 a lot of money?”

So my point is: many (most) immigrants and foreign-born are as surprised as Americans are about saving and traveling with so much cash as are Americans thinking $10,000 or more is a lot of money to save.

Why do I mention this? The foregoing is just a segue into my introducing a news story about how most Americans could not even come up with $1,000 in cash to cover an emergency, which is available here in full. I quote the introduction here:

NEW YORK (AP) — Two-thirds of Americans would have difficulty coming up with the money to cover a $1,000 emergency, according to an exclusive poll released Thursday, a signal that despite years of recovery from the Great Recession, Americans’ financial conditions remain precarious as ever.

These financial difficulties span all income levels, according to the poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Seventy-five percent of people in households making less than $50,000 a year would have difficulty coming up with $1,000 to cover an unexpected bill. But when income rose to between $50,000 and $100,000, the difficulty decreased only modestly to 67 percent.

Even for the country’s wealthiest 20 percent — households making more than $100,000 a year — 38 percent say they would have at least some difficulty coming up with $1,000.

In other articles on this topic, we wrote about how Americans might not flinch about having $10,000 in debt! Read Targeted Enforcement for Customs Money Seizure.


Picture of what the cash seized at Dulles airport looked similar to.

Cash seized at Dulles airport by CBP

A Chinese traveler had cash seized at Dulles airport, again, last week. This time it was $20,377, instead of $16,000 in cash seized by CBP there last week.

Dulles airport CBP seems to be on a roll. This story has the man reporting $10,000, but carrying $20,377 on his person and in his luggage. In addition to the failure to report, that failure to report combined with the presence of the money in the luggage could be the basis for an allegation of bulk cash smuggling.

Here’s the story about the cash seized at Dulles airport last week (as told by CBP):

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Office of Field Operations (OFO), at Washington Dulles International Airport seized $20,377 Monday from a Chinese citizen for violating federal currency reporting regulations.

The man, who arrived on a flight from China, declared to CBP officers that he was carrying $10,000 and completed a financial form reporting the same. However; CBP officers discovered a total of $20,377 on his person and in his luggage. CBP officers seized the $20,377 and advised him how to petition for the return of the rest of the currency.

Always remember, legitimate source and legitimate use of the seized cash must be proven before Customs is legally required to consider returning the money. The types of documentation that is needed to prove this varies in every situation, and documentation should only be provided to CBP after

Picture of what the cash seized at Dulles airport looked similar to.
A Chinese citizen had cash seized at Dulles airport.

consultation with an attorney (here’s why). A customs lawyer will have a much better chance at getting your cash returned than doing it on your own.

If you’ve had cash seized at Dulles airport, or another airport, you can learn more from our trusted legal road-map of a customs money seizure and can contact us for a free currency seizure consultation by clicking the contact buttons on this page.

A pile of $20 bills on a table.

$16k Dulles Airport Currency Seizure by CBP

A Dulles airport currency seizure of $16,000 by CBP was reported by Customs this week. The seizure

A pile of $20 bills on a table, similar to the Dulles airport currency seizure case mentioned in this article
A Dulles airport currency seizure resulted in the seizure of $16,000 by CBP.

occurred last Thursday, when a woman traveling to Ghana was stopped and searched by Customs when she failed to report traveling with $6,951 more than she had.

According to the story, the currency was found in both her luggage and on her person; CBP may use this as a basis to allege not only a failure to report, but also bulk cash smuggling. If Dulles alleges bulk cash smuggling as reason they seized the money in the notice of seizure, this lady will almost certainly be looking at a huge loss of money as a penalty, even if she can prove it came from a legitimate source and had a legitimate intended use. This is because bulk cash smuggling permits Customs to keep more of the money as a penalty.

Here is the excerpt from the full Customs Dulles airport currency seizure story:

A woman boarding a flight to Ghana was selected for questioning by CBP officers who were conducting an outbound enforcement operation on an international flight. The woman completed a financial form, reporting $10,000, however; a total of $16,951 in U.S. and foreign currency was discovered on her person and in her luggage. CBP officers seized the $16,951, returned the equivalent of $192 in foreign currency as humanitarian relief, and advised her how to petition for the return of the rest of the currency.

As I’ve said before, don’t take legal advice from Customs. Depending on the source of the money and the circumstances of the seizure filing an administrative petition might not be her best option; it could be that filing a claim, making an offer in compromise, or filing a petition in the federal court are the best options. If you’ve experienced a Customs Dulles airport currency seizure use our trusted legal road-map of a customs money seizure or contact us for a free currency seizure consultation!