Sunday, September 18, 2016

Protecting Cultural Heritage by Revising the Customs Entry Form

Customs Entry Form 6059B
When people become aware of the rampant looting, smuggling, and destruction of cultural property, they show concern about preserving humanity's shared cultural heritage. And when U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers are able to identify specific cultural objects imported into America, they are better positioned to interdict at-risk archaeological, ethnological, religious, and other cultural heritage material at the border.

It is for these reasons that the Customs Entry Form should be revised slightly.

Those who have flown back home from a trip overseas undoubtedly have spotted a flight attendant strolling down the aircraft aisle handing out the ubiquitous blue paper known as Form 6059B, the double-sided document used by travelers to declare goods that they are bringing into the United States.

By checking off the simple “Yes” or “No” boxes found at question #11, travelers easily notify CPB upon their arrival whether they have:
  • fruits, vegetables, plants, seeds, food, insects;
  • meats, animals, animal/wildlife products;
  • disease agents, cell cultures, snails;
  • soil or have been on a farm/ranch/pasture.
But, surprisingly, the Entry Form does not include an interrogatory that covers regulated cultural heritage goods. There is no “Yes” or “No” box for travelers to check when carrying an ancient Greek vase, Roman coin, Maya wall art, Byzantine mosaic panel, Tellem textile, Khmer statue, Tyrannosaurus bataar fossil, or the like. That is why a new line under #11 should be added on the Customs Entry Form to say:

I am (We are) bringing...
antiquities/antiques, archaeological material/artifacts, ancient coins, tribal objects, fossils
Yes __  No __

This new Q and A would alert travelers about the existence of regulations that govern imported cultural goods. Such laws include the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act; the Pre-Columbian Monumental or Architectural Sculpture or Murals Act; the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act; the National Stolen Property Act; and many more.

A person checking the "Yes" box would prompt CBP officers to inquire further about whether a particular cultural heritage object could be imported legally or whether its entry was subject to restriction. A false "No" response might trigger CBP to contact Homeland Security Investigations to examine if someone was knowingly concealing an illegal import.

In addition to the questions found under #11, the Customs Entry Form currently directs travelers to “[d]eclare all articles on this declaration form and show the value in U.S. dollars.” It cautions them about bringing potentially prohibited objects into America like agricultural and wildlife products, controlled substances, obscene articles, toxic substances, and merchandise that infringes intellectual property rights. "Failure to declare such items ... can result in penalties and the items may be subject to seizure," Form 6059B warns. By adding specific language about legally protected cultural property to this part of the Form, travelers would be alerted further about their duty to declare a variety of protected cultural heritage objects.

Retired customs officer Domenic DiGiovanni, who worked extensively with cultural heritage material when he was with CBP, tweeted that these changes to the Form would be a "great idea" because customs officers would ask follow-up questions in person that "could elicit a behavioral response" from the traveler, which in turn could "lead to more questions."

There is plenty of space remaining on Form 6059B to improve the paperwork, and the small changes would go a long way toward protecting cultural heritage.

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