Senators question increasing number of aircraft searches

A group of senators asked Department of Homeland Security Secretary Rand Beers why more general aviation aircraft that do not cross the Canadian-U.S. border are being stopped and searched by customs agents in a letter sent on Wednesday.

The senators requested a state-by-state record of all GA aircraft stopped and searched by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents since 2009. The senators want to glean what “reasonable suspicion” led to the stoppages and what “probable cause” led to the searches.

“There is a lot of justified frustration from pilots who feel their constitutional rights may have been violated,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who signed the letter, said. “We need to know all of the facts behind these stops and searches to ensure our constituents are not being unlawfully singled out by the federal government.”

The letter was also signed by Sens. James Risch (R-Idaho), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), David Vitter (R-La.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.).

The letter cited “first-hand accounts” from pilots as evidence of the increasing number of stops and searches by the Marine Division of the CBP.

“We do not disagree that agents working for CBP have limited authority to stop a plane and ask for proof of an airman certificate, medical certificate, authorization or license,” the letter stated. “However, we wholly disagree with agents demanding access to search an aircraft without reasonable suspicion or probable cause.”