BROOKLYN (CN) – Customs and Border Patrol reached a sweeping settlement where they agree not to detain domestic flight passengers who refuse suspicionless ID checks while still on board the plane.
Under the 6-page agreement signed Wednesday, the agency said it will circulate a policy directive nationwide to its officers clarifying that it does not have a policy or practice of checking the identification of deplaning domestic passengers.
The agency’s directive says that any encounters between field officers and airplane passengers must not contravene the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable search and seizures.
The settlement is a win for Delta airline passengers who brought a 2017 federal lawsuit in Brooklyn where they claimed that agents had held them earlier in the year on the tarmac at JFK airport, refusing to let them off the plane that had flown them to New York City from San Francisco until they show their IDs.
Attorneys for the passengers with the American Civil Liberties Union and Covington Burling said the CBP agent did not have a warrant to search any of the passengers or individualized suspicion that any passenger on board had committed a crime in order to justify a stop. In response to public outcry on social media and press inquiries, CBP characterized the suspicionless searches and seizures of domestic flight passengers as “routine” and consistent with agency policy.
The lawsuit sought a permanent injunction barring the government agencies from seizing and conducting warrantless and suspicionless identification checks of passengers disembarking from domestic flights.
Though the government moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the document checks were voluntary and likely wouldn’t recur, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis denied the motion last year.
Under the settlement’s directive, the CBP explained that its officers cannot physically block passengers from deplaning.
The directive also clarifies that when CBP officers conduct consensual ID checks, they must clearly tell passengers that any cooperation with the officers’ requests to check identification is voluntary and explain that any passengers who decline will face no law enforcement consequence as a result.
Kelley Amadei, one of the Delta passengers who joined the lawsuit, spoke about the settlement in a statement through the ACLU.
“I felt in the moment like I had no choice but to comply with this police-state tactic,” Amadei said. “But one of the great things about this country is that we have protections, and when those protections are violated, we can speak up. And sometimes, in cases like this, we get the result we need to protect us and our fellow citizens.”
Hugh Handeyside and Anna Diakun, attorneys with the ACLU’s National Security Project celebrated the agreement in a blog post announcing the settlement.
“The Constitution protects passengers deplaning domestic flights just as it protects people on the street or in a car,” Handeyside and Diakun wrote Thursday. “CBP is bound by those protections, and this settlement helps make sure the agency stays within those bounds,” the ACLU attorneys added.
The CBP will recirculate the directive nationwide again in August 2021.
As part of the settlement, the United States agreed to pay $40,000 to cover the the plaintiffs’ legal costs.
Media representatives for Customs and Border Patrol did not immediately respond to requests for comment.