With a growing number of reports from law-abiding pilots stopped by armed federal agents on the ramp, their aircraft searched by federal agents, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection remains silent, and outrage is building.
AOPA is questioning CBP’s authority to conduct the searches, and demanding a response from officials at the highest level. There has been no meaningful response to date from CBP to Freedom of Information Act requests filed months ago by AOPA and affected pilots.
“We don’t even know why they’re being stopped,” said AOPA General Counsel Ken Mead, adding that the association will press the issue until satisfactory answers—or a change in policy—are forthcoming.
“We’re not going to let this go with just lip service,” Mead said. “The agency either has to stop its behavior or we’re going to need to elevate it to Congress.”
Innocent pilots who have been targeted for search but not charged with a crime may never get an opportunity to challenge a potential violation of their constitutional rights in court, since there is never a trial in such cases, and civil action against the federal government is cost-prohibitive for most.
Federal law requires a timely (and meaningful) response to a Freedom of Information Act request, but CBP, unlike some state and local agencies, has told AOPA not to expect any response to a Feb. 12 request for at least six months.
“We were given no justification for such extreme delinquency in meeting the statutory requirement to respond within 20 business days,” Mead wrote a June 19 letter to acting CBP Commissioner Thomas S. Winkowski. “If CBP does not respond to our request and produce the required information and documents by July 20, 2013, this letter serves as notice that we will pursue such other remedies as available at law and advise the appropriate members of Congress and congressional committees of this matter and seek their intervention.”