DHS Agencies Are Taking Millions In Cash From Travelers Every Year, Can't Be Bothered To Stop Any Crimes

from the taking-taxpayers'-dimes-on-the-taxpayers'-dime dept

In a little over 15 years, DHS agencies interacted with millions of travelers passing through our nation’s airports… and relieved them of over $2 billion in cash. (And that’s just agencies like the CBP and ICE. The DEA also lifts cash from airline passengers — something it loves doing so much it hires TSA agents to look for money, rather than stuff that could threaten transportation security.)

That’s just one of several disturbing findings in the Institute for Justice’s (IJ) new report [PDF] on the DHS’s ability to separate travelers from their money. Utilizing the Treasury Department’s forfeiture database, the IJ discovered the DHS is a fan of taking cash and does so more frequently at certain airports. The most popular airport for cash seizures is, by far, Chicago’s O’Hare. In 2014, the airport accounted for 34% of all cash seized despite handling only 6% of all air travelers.

More travelers means more opportunities, which explains some of the increase in seizures over the past decade. But as the IJ points out, seizures are outpacing the bump in travel stats.

Between 2000 and 2016, the number of air travelers increased 46%, while the inflation-adjusted value of currency seized at airports by DHS agencies increased 140% and the number of airport currency seizure cases grew 178%.

Any international airport will be patrolled by CBP and ICE agents looking for cash to seize. And they’re not looking to catch drug dealers, human traffickers, or any other criminals that might be carrying cash around. No, the most common criminal activity to result in forfeitures is nothing more than a reporting violation.

Federal law requires travelers to declare any currency over $10,000 when traveling into or out of the country. It’s pretty easy to get this done when traveling into the US, as arriving visitors will be required to go through Customs and declare anything they’re bringing into the country, including cash. Outbound travelers may not realize this applies to them and since they’re not required to pass through Customs on the way out, they may have no idea they’re violating the law. That’s an opportunity DHS agencies are more than happy to capitalize on. Half of all seizures between 2000-2016 were for violating this reporting requirement.

In fact, serious criminal activity is something no one seizing money seems very concerned about. Asset forfeiture isn’t about dismantling criminal empires. It’s about taking cash from people who have limited means to fight back. If the government has all your cash, it’s pretty tough to hire a lawyer and fight an uphill battle against a system that dispenses with the property’s former owner completely to engage in litigation against the cash itself.

Overall, 69% of DHS agency airport currency seizure cases were not accompanied by an arrest, regardless of the alleged offense. This means less than a third of the time was an offense egregious enough, or the evidence strong enough, to warrant an arrest.

This isn’t just a DHS thing. It’s an everybody thing.

In 2017, the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General conducted an in-depth study of a sample of 100 Drug Enforcement Administration forfeiture cases. The study found that only 44 of those cases advanced or were even related to a criminal investigation. That same year, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reviewed a sample of 278 cases in which currency was seized under “structuring” laws, which prohibit conducting bank transactions below $10,000 to evade federal reporting requirements. The law is in place to prevent crimes like money laundering, but the study found that in 91% of cases, the seized funds were from a legal source, such as a family-owned business. The study also found that IRS agents were encouraged to conduct “quick hits,” where property was easier to seize, “rather than pursue cases with other criminal activity (such as drug trafficking or money laundering), which are more time-consuming.”

Taking money from people has always been easier than fighting crime. That much has been obvious for years. The IRS said the quiet part loud on accident. This report says everything the government isn’t willing to admit to the public, much less itself: the point of forfeiture programs is to enrich those performing the forfeitures. That’s it. That’s the entire thing. Any reductions in criminal activity are purely coincidental.

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Comments on “DHS Agencies Are Taking Millions In Cash From Travelers Every Year, Can't Be Bothered To Stop Any Crimes”

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This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

I, for one, feel safer already just knowing that DHS agencies are diligently working to rid us of the scourge known as money.

As everyone knows, money is the root of all evil, and therefore it must be stopped at all cost. Your help is required now, please allow DHS to do their jobs and just hand over the cash.

Who knew traveling would become so expensive, what is the typical amount one should carry so that DHS will have adequate funding levels to protect us from this horrible thing.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"What am I doing wrong? Have I jinxed myself somewhere along the way?"

Well, apparently you aren’t working for law enforcement. If you live in the US and spend 8 hours a day working for your money rather than holding them up at gunpoint and stealing their cash at airports then the jokes just on you.

I’m halfway convinced "larceny" might be a solid bullet point to have on any CV you use for a DHS job application.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"It’s impolite to name concrete bakshish amounts."

Frankly speaking the DHS are rather clumsy as it is. The Ottoman empire and the old Chinese bureaucrats had tabulated lists as to what would make for a decent bribe.

Modern travellers, though, just refuse to educate themselves as to the proper protocols. Can’t blame the poor long-suffering DHS for simply helping themselves out of sheer exasperation.

/s, because we live in the age of Poe.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Good thing we had a war with England to be free to rob ourselves

When a government agency takes your cash and doesn’t return it or give you credit towards your taxes, that is theft. Pretty it up any way you want but that is literally one of the main reasons why we had a war with England. If you think that allowing this will have no repercussions, you are as out of touch as England was at the time.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Good thing we had a war with England to be free to rob ourse

"Pretty it up any way you want but that is literally one of the main reasons why we had a war with England. If you think that allowing this will have no repercussions, you are as out of touch as England was at the time."

…except that civil forfeiture and whatever the DHS is calling their version of highway robbery has caused not a single rattle in US politics. The republicans are all in favor of it because the police can do no wrong and democrats insist the broken system which has let things slide to this point can be fixed by having more of it.

Every person in the US who has been convicted of a crime is taxed without representation, usually for the rest of their lives. Law and justice is available only if you can afford the barrister. The king…uh, president…is considered inviolate by half the nation no matter what he does.
If you were born in the lower classes you will be held inherently unable to change and your miserable conditions held up as your own damn fault for not working hard enough.

Face it, people. The US has gone full circle and managed to restore the 18th century country it fled. I can just imagine King George going "If you didn’t want shit changed why all the fuss? Sheesh!".

The US no longer has a Washington, Jeffersson or Franklin to make the required changes, however, so what you have now appears to be what you’re stuck with until shit gets unacceptable enough to have even the liberals digging up their hatchets for real.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve traveled the world and the only other country I felt anywhere near the same level of fear of the government was Italy with its military personnel carrying some pretty scary looking combat rifles stationed all over Rome.

What does it say about the US that, even as a US citizen, I feel more afraid being in the US than most other places in the world?

ECA (profile) says:

This took how long??

Lets see…
A job of monitoring this type of thing is supposed to be Ongoing..
15-20 years?
And NO court cases??
There have been a few, but Im sorry for the person, as it took them around 2 years of court costs. and the Gov. paid no penalty, WHICH THEY SHOULD.
And if they do, most Judges base it on LOWEST interest rates, not Credit card/Bank rates. A diff of 3-4% compared to 14-21%.

Anonymous Coward says:

Worse than medievil nobility

Even those bunch of heavily armed thugs had the sense to realize that interfering with commerce like that would lose far more money than gained and that rather than robber barrons at most fixed tolls over high traffic areas and hanging highwaymen was better for all involved.

Instead we have idiots thinking self-funding agencies is a grand idea.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Crime prevention

Not as bad as their actual reason;

"To prevent crime we’ll make anyone with enough money to perpetrate a crime too poor to perpetrate that crime."

With "having cash on hand" being considered "suspicious" as a rider.

If it weren’t for the bad optics that would generate DHS agents might as well just walk into the waiting lounges screaming "your money or your lives".

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