Greyhound buses, once a symbol of travel on America’s vast highways, have become rolling traps where U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents routinely board to unlawfully interrogate, detain and arrest passengers.
The agents, with the agreement of Greyhound, stage surprise boardings without warrants to question riders about their citizenship and travel plans. In many cases, all too reminiscent of police states, the agents demand to see a passenger’s “documents.”
The warrantless raids, which saw a rapid increase in the past year, are not only a blatant disregard of passengers’ constitutional rights, they are also clearly driven by racial profiling.
On Wednesday, March 21, ACLU affiliates in Florida, California, Texas, Washington, Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, Michigan, Arizona, and Maine sent a letter to Greyhound Lines Inc. to urge the company to change its policies and refuse CBP permission to conduct raids on buses without warrants.
“Greyhound is not obligated to permit warrantless CBP raids and to facilitate violations of its passengers’ civil rights,” said Amien Kacou, immigration attorney at the ACLU of Florida. “These raids routinely lead to violations of the constitutional rights against racial discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause, and against unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment, as CBP officers target people of color and coerce vulnerable individuals to submit to interrogations about their citizenship and immigration status.”
Examples of abusive interrogations and searches have come from across the country.
In Florida, in January 2018, two videos taken by Greyhound passengers captured CBP agents asking passengers for proof of citizenship. The videos went viral and prompted national outcry. The first incident ended with CBP detaining a Jamaican woman, who was in the U.S. to visit her granddaughter, and the second incident, with CBP arresting a 12-year Miami resident from Trinidad. Nineteen members of Congress issued a statement afterwards calling CBP’s actions an “abuse of mandate and authority.”
In California, CBP stopped a Los Angeles resident in Indio without any stated reason as he boarded a bus except that his “shoes looked suspicious,” like someone who had recently crossed the border. The man was detained to the point that he missed his bus. — In another instance, a CBP agent demanded that a Latino U.S. citizen who was filming a raid show two forms of identification.
In Vermont, a bus arriving at 2a.m. in the Hartford area was boarded by agents. “They wouldn’t let us get off,” a witness told the Valley News newspaper, adding that the agents “only checked the IDs of people who had accents or were not white.”
In Washington, a father and son were arrested, even though the son had DACA status and the father gave no information about his immigration status. The agent interrogating them without a warrant asked, “Are you illegal” and “Do you have your documents on you.”
Greyhound issued a statement earlier this year saying the company was “required” to cooperate with “enforcement agencies if they ask to board our buses.” But that’s not true. In fact, in accordance with court decisions stemming from the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, the company may deny CBP permission interrogate passengers aboard a bus without warrants or probable cause.
CBP agents and Greyhound have said agents do not need warrants if they are within 100 miles of the international borders with Mexico or Canada. But geography does not negate the Fourth Amendment.
The ACLU, in its “Know Your Rights” handouts, informs passengers that they have the right to remain silent and refuse searches when confronted by government agents who do not have warrants. They also have the right to record video of the incidents, even though there are reports of agents threatening people taking video of the unlawful raids.
Read the ACLU letter being sent to Greyhound here: https://www.aclufl.org/sites/default/files/aclu_affiliate_letter_to_greyhound.pdf
See the “Know Your Rights” information here: https://www.aclufl.org/en/campaigns/ride-rights