Department of Homeland SecuritySeizures

Notice of Detention of Merchandise by U.S. Customs and Border Protection

posted by Jennifer Diaz February 24, 2011 4 Comments

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a February 22, 2011 60-Day Notice and Request for Comments regarding its use of a "Notice of Detention".  I know, a lot of you are saying to yourselves, "When did CBP starting using Notices of Detention," and my response to you is "That’s a darn good question!"

The law, 19 U.S.C. 1499 and 19 CFR 151.16, allows CBP officers at the border to stop and search persons for merchandise.  If the CBP officer discovers something suspicious, and takes it from you, then it has been "detained".  In exchange, the CBP officer is required to send to the importer or passenger a Notice of Detention form no later than 5 business days from the date of the examination, stating that: (1) the merchandise has been detained, (2) the reason for the detention, and (3) the anticipated length of the detention. 

That all sounds reasonable, but the problem is that the legal requirement is often ignored by CBP.  Often, a Notice of Detention is never issued by CBP to the importer, or is issued late or does not state the reason for the detained merchandise.  I  have seen a few hundred Notices of Detention over the past 21 years as a customs lawyer, but have never seen one that described "the anticipated length of detention."

The Request for Comments asks the public for "ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected."  I have a way to enhance the quality of the CBP Notice of Detention – follow the law and issue it every time, on time, and accurately.   For those who want to respond formally to CBP, click on the link for the address to address comments before April 25, 2011

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Robert Becerra February 25, 2011 at 10:50 am

About time! But like you said, will CBP actually send the notices when they detain your shipment? They should follow their own regulations.

Response. Bob, from your lips to the Commissioner of CBP’s ears.


Dalana DelPazzo March 8, 2011 at 5:37 pm

I received such letter, which was sent February 19th, and was also visited by the FDA which asked for a sample of the supplement I market. I believed that customs was holding the package, but when I went to check our tracking number they delivered it 3 days after the letter was sent. What does that mean? Am I allowed to continue doing business with the international country I am currently in business with or do I have to wait the full 60 days to get the test back from FDA. I’m so confused.


Dalana DelPazzo March 8, 2011 at 8:24 pm

There was no name of any particular agent at all. The letter stated to not contact them until after 30 days. Thank you for your reply and for the very important and useful information you provide in your site.

Richard April 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm

The CBP is now detaining some of my merchandise. I know this only because the last entry in the EMS shippment tracking says “detained by customs”. So now it’s entered the black hole of customs. Hopefully I’ll get a letter from CBP with enough information that I can get my merchandise out of detention. However, if the CBP never sends the letter, how can I identify and free my detained merchandise? The CBP says they can’t find it by tracking number; just the number they provide in their letter. But if there’s no letter, then what?


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