Is it illegal to travel with money/cash? Is it illegal if you’re trying to cross the border out of the country and taking too much cash with you? Airports are hotbeds for forfeiture, whether civil asset forfeiture or cash seizures under a federal statute, which we’ll talk about now.
Why is it illegal to travel with cash? (Law & History)
Customs and Border Protection and other Department of Homeland Security agents seized more than 2 billion cash from travelers at US airports between 2000 and 2016. That’s according to a report from the Institute for Justice.
Their report analyzes the use of civil asset forfeiture by federal law enforcement airports, where multiple news investigations have revealed horror stories of passengers having their money taken from them despite never being charged with a crime.
One example is a man named Zazi, a US citizen who tried in 2018 to get on a plane to return to his native Albania in Cleveland because Zazi had roughly $58,000 in cash in his luggage. He said he was taking to repair a house he owned and possibly buy another. But he was strip-searched by CBP agents, who also seized his life savings.
The agency claimed the cash was involved in smuggling, drug trafficking, and money laundering, and they had no proof of that, and they never even filed a claim against the money! Then they failed to return his money after the deadline passed.
The US government agreed to return most of the cash because Zazi says they kept about $700 for themselves for handling fees. Antonia Noori, a Houston woman who had $41,000 in cash, was subject to a seizure. Her $41,000 was seized at an airport in 2018. She was taking it to Nigeria for a children’s hospital.
Those are two of the 30,000 cash seizures at airports across the country. The most common reason for airport currency seizures is a failure to report traveling internationally with $10,000 or more in cash or other currency as federal law requires.
- So federal law says if you want to take cash out of the country, you fill out a form and inform.
That means you comply with one law, but now you’ve tipped them off to your current cash. So that’s when they’ll swoop in with a civil asset forfeiture claim. Those paperwork violations account for half of all currency seizures and over a quarter of the total value seized, over half a billion dollars. Most are without a demonstrated connection to serious criminal activity.
Civil asset forfeiture is taking the money and saying we think that money is the fruit of a crime. It’s one thing there is a statute that says, if you are traveling more than 10,000 hours in cash across the border, you’ve got to notify us. The question is, what’s the purpose of that statute? What does it do unless it has tipped them off? Reporting violations accounted for half of all airport currency seizures and 28% of the total value seized. The report also found no arrests made in more than two-thirds of those cases. Airport seizures are trending up.
- Under current law, law enforcement can seize properties suspected of being connected to criminal activity, even if the owners never charged the crime, including cash. It also includes cars and houses and anything else of value.
- Law enforcement groups say that civil asset forfeiture is vital to disrupt drug trafficking and other organized crime by targeting ill-gotten gains.
Civil liberties groups across the political spectrum say civil asset forfeiture is unfairly tilted against defendants who bear the burden of challenging seizures in court and proving their innocence, contrary to everything we believe about America.
Prove your innocence! It also creates a perverse profit incentive because asset forfeiture revenues pad the budgets of police departments and prosecutor’s offices. So they’re encouraged to seize more money because they get to keep it.
In 2016, a USA Today investigation found the DEA seized more than $200 million from at least 5000 travelers and 15 major airports over the previous decade. A 2017 report by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General found that the DEA seized more than 4 billion in cash from people suspected of drug activity over the previous decade.
Is it illegal to travel with more than $10,000 US Dollars in Cash?
The straight answer is that it’s not illegal. But the law states that if you have more than $10,000, you have to declare it. That’s different from it being completely illegal. It’s not illegal to have cash in the United States. We have the RICO statute that was put in place to prevent money laundering and prevent people from trying to hide money.
Can you deposit it all at once, even getting a money order for more than $3,000?
The last time I tried, I had to fill out special paperwork for the IRS. It’s English teaching money. I’ve got it declared, and it’s on my tax return. So there’s no reason to hide it. It’s not illegal to have cash, but it’s illegal to hide or not transparency.
Read more similar topics:
Mishkin, Frederic. The Economics of Money, Banking, and Financial Markets (Alternate ed.). Boston: Addison Wesley.
“Money: The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics.” The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics.