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Criminals are always on the urge to illegally enter the country, or ship illegal or harmful merchandise. And that’s where U.S. Customs and Border Protection comes into play. 

Customs and Border Protection is actively looking for illegal shipping on every border of the country. When something is found suspicious, the authority takes the merchandise under custody. 

In this article, we talk about everything you need to know about U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Then, we briefly talk about what kind of merchandise is labeled as illegal by the authorities. Last but not least, we discuss what happens when CBP seizes a package. 

Let’s dive in. 

What’s the primary purpose of U.S. Customs and Border Protection?

The agency was created back in 2003 to fight the inflow of criminals and illegal substances into the country. Today, CBP covers more than 9,000 miles of borderland on its own and prevents illegal border crossings. Plus, in collaboration with U.S. Coast Guard, CBP also takes care of more than 95,000 miles of the maritime border.

The primary “mission” of CBP is to prevent terrorist and their weapons from entering the country. To complete that mission, CBP has to pay close attention to every piece of cargo that’s entering the border. 

When U.S. Customs finds something that seems illegal, it takes the package and keeps it in a Centralized Examination Station (CES), where it’s thoroughly examined.

What’s considered an illegal package by U.S. Customs?

To minimize the import of illegal cargo, U.S. Customs has strict rules and regulations to follow. These guidelines help custom officers figure out whether a package is considered illegal or not. 

There are two types of items that are screened by U.S. Customs. 

First, there are restricted items that are not usually allowed through the border, but with special permits, these can be imported. These include things like some animals, animal products, firearms, certain vegetables & fruits, and other similar items. 

Secondly, there are prohibited items that are not allowed to enter the U.S. borders at any cost. These include things like dangerous toys, illegal drugs & other substances, cars without safety features, bush meat, and other similar items. 

However, sometimes the U.S. Customs can seize a package thinking it contains illegal materials. If something like this happens to you and you’re sure it’s a mistake, you must get in touch with a Customs Attorney as soon as possible. 

What happens when U.S. Customs seizes an illegal package?

If U.S. Customs wants to detain a package, it has to go through a legal process to do that. 

If U.S. Customs thinks a package is illegal, it has to detain it within 35 days of the package’s arrival. Plus, the customs officer carrying out the detention needs to showcase solid reasons for taking the package. He/she has to explain to the package’s importer, customs broker, and the customs attorney, why the package is being taken. 

After the package has been taken, it’s placed in a Centralized Examination Station (CES). There, U.S. Customs takes apart the package and analyzes its components to see whether there’s something illegal inside. 

After the 35 days period, U.S. Customs has to decide whether it wants to seize the package or release it. However, in many cases, the process is delayed and U.S. Customs can’t come up with a decision on time. That’s because it has to rely on other agencies to provide it with instructions on whether the package is breaking any law — and that’s where the process gets elongated. 

Many importers make the mistake of repeatedly calling the customs officer, waiting for an answer after 35 days. But that doesn’t work as the officer themselves don’t have an answer. They have to wait for instructions to appear from other authorities, which often takes more than 60 days. 

That’s why even though the official deciding period is 35 days, U.S. Customs may not release or seize a package until 60 days have passed. 

If the package violates the regulations and gets seized, it’s moved to a Seized Property Warehouse, where it’s kept until further notice. When the warehouse is instructed to release the package, the owner also has to pay a warehouse fee to take control of the cargo. 

After U.S. Customs seizes the package, it sends the file to the Fines, Penalties, and Forfeitures Office (FP&F), which then prepares a legal Seizure Notice explaining the time and place of seizing the cargo. 

A copy of the Seizure Notice is also sent to the owner of the package, i.e., the alleged violator to let them know their package has been seized. 

After receiving the notice, the alleged violator can file a petition to fight the case. This should be done within 30 days of receiving the Seizure Notice — otherwise, the petition won’t be of any use. 

In the petition, the alleged violator can argue why a violation wasn’t done by them, or why the violation can be mitigated by various factors. 

If the petition succeeds, the cargo will be released — otherwise, it will be kept by the U.S. Customs forever. 


U.S. Customs and Border Protection is responsible for keeping out criminals, terrorist weapons, drugs, dangerous items, and other illegal stuff. 

However, if your package gets seized even if it didn’t carry any law violating material, you should have the best attorney with you to file a petition. And that’s where Abady Law Firm comes into play. 
To utilize Abady’s top-notch customs legal services related to customs, import, and export, click here.

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