Border Patrol questioning Greyhound bus passengers
Upon boarding a Greyhound bus in Spokane last September, Kayden Grey Rinaldi was surprised to see a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer climbing onboard as well. The officer began walking up to passengers and questioning them about their citizenship status.
Rinaldi, a recent Western graduate, said they frequently use Greyhound buses to travel between Bellingham, Seattle and Spokane, and that a similar incident happened again in late December.
“[The officer] basically asked ‘Are you a citizen of the United States?’ to all of the white people,” Rinaldi said. “I noticed anytime he was questioning a brown person he would ask them multiple questions and would also ask to see their I.D..”
According to Enoka Herat, Police Practices and Immigration Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, Border Patrol Agents have been boarding Greyhound buses and questioning people about their immigration status for some time. However, under the Obama administration there was a policy in place that required Border Patrol to have actionable information that someone or something they were looking for was on the bus they wanted to search. Herat said under the Trump administration, this policy is no longer in affect.
Since this change, Herat said the ACLU has been informed of incidents of Border Patrol stopping Greyhound busses across the country. She said while everyone has the right to remain silent and refuse questioning, in many reports, Border Patrol Agents often do not inform passengers of this right.
According to Rinaldi, when an officer boarded their bus in September, a young man who was sitting in the aisle across from them seemed nervous, his hands shaking as the officer approached. Rinaldi said when the officer asked the man if he was a citizen, he explained he was from Guatemala and brought out a folder with identification and other legal documents.
Rinaldi said the Border Patrol Agent asked the man to step off the bus. After reviewing his documents, Border Patrol allowed the man to board the bus again. His hands were still shaking as he returned to his seat, Rinaldi said.
“I can’t explain the visceral feeling of the Border Patrol officer looking into my eyes and asking me the question, ‘Are you a citizen?’ It really struck me,” Rinaldi said. “I could see the aggression in his eyes and the fear he was trying to instill in people.”
According to its website, Greyhound is the largest provider of intercity bus transportation, serving more than 3,800 destinations across North America. However, over the last year the company has faced pushback from lawmakers and organizations such as the ACLU for allowing Border Patrol to board its vehicles and question its passengers without a probable cause or a warrant.
According to an email from Crystal Booker, a communications specialist at Greyhound, the company supports reform to the current laws that allow Customs and Border Protection to board Greyhound buses. She said Greyhound encourages those concerned with current practices to work with their representatives to pursue policy change.
Herat said in Washington, the majority of reports about Border Patrol questioning people on Greyhound buses have occured in Spokane. She said the ACLU of Washington currently passes out “Know Your Rights” cards at the Spokane Greyhound station to inform people of their rights if immigration officers ever question them on public transportation.
“We’ve heard reports consistently in Spokane and across the country that while Border Patrol may ask everyone on the bus what their citizenship [status] is, if you’re a person of color they’ll ask you follow up questions,” Herat said. “That kind of profiling, discrimination, and harassment that impacts citizens and noncitizens alike is really unacceptable in our country.”
These questionings of Greyhound passenger have occurred outside of the Pacific Northwest as well. After videos of agents questioning passengers on a Greyhound bus in Fort Lauderdale, Florida surfaced in January 2018, Greyhound released a statement saying the company is required to cooperate with all state and federal laws.
According to the Customs and Border Protection website, the Immigration and Nationality Act 287 states that immigration officers can search for undocumented immigrants without a warrant on any vehicle within a reasonable distance of the border. A reasonable distance is defined by 8 Code of Federal Regulations as 100 miles from the border.
Nearly two out of three people in the U.S. live within the 100 mile border zone according to the 2010 census, leaving many people vulnerable to warrantless search and seizures.
While immigration officers have the legal authority to conduct searches within 100 miles of the border, both lawmakers and the ACLU have argued that without probable cause, Greyhound must give consent in order for officers to question their passengers.
According to Herat, on March 21, 2018, 10 ACLU affiliates signed a letter to Dave Leach, Greyhound president and chief executive officer, and Tricia Martinez, senior legal officer at Greyhound, urging the company to change its policy and require Border Patrol to have a warrant prior to questioning Greyhound passengers.
“We asked them, you know you have this right,” Heart said, “why aren’t you protecting customers from this harassment?”
On June 13, 2018, 23 members of Congress also sent Leach a letter stating concerns of Greyhound’s policies leading to the violation of their constituents’ constitutional rights.
In addition to providing information to Greyhound travelers, Herat said the ACLU of Washington has also worked closely with a variety of organizations in Spokane to create policies that would protect passengers from Border Patrol.
On Oct. 22, 2018, the City Council of Spokane passed an ordinance by a margin of 6-1 that requires federal immigration enforcement agencies to have a warrant before setting foot on non-public areas of city-owned property. This includes the bus-boarding areas of Spokane’s bus station, according to their website. Herat said 300 people were present at the hearing, and 114 people testified in support of the ordinance, with four people testifying opposed.
Herat said even with the ordinance in effect, Border Patrol Agents have continued to enter the Greyhound station in Spokane.
Booker said in an email that the safety and dignity of their customers is important to Greyhound, and the company has recently added resources to its website informing customers of immigration practices and their rights. She said conversations between Greyhound and the ACLU were an important part to creating these materials.
For Rinaldi, the repeated incidents of Greyhound allowing Border Patrol to search and remove passengers from their busses is good enough reason to boycott the company.
“I want everyone to know about this so they can choose not to ride Greyhound,” Rinaldi said. “Where we have the power as citizens is to say we’re not going to support this person or this business with our money because we don’t believe in [their] ethics.”