In January, the Florida Immigrant Coalition shared two videos of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents storming onto Greyhound buses in the Sunshine State, where they asked passengers for their citizenship "papers" and hauled some away. In one case, agents removed a Jamaican grandmother, and in another they apprehended a Trinidadian man who had lived in Miami for 12 years. Though CBP agents have been patrolling Greyhound buses since the days of the Obama administration, the videos went viral and sparked another debate about whether the American deportation machine is necessary or even legal.
Yesterday the American Civil Liberties Union revived the debate once more. Citing numerous cases across the nation, the ACLU sent an open letter to the CEO of Greyhound Lines, Dave Leach, to demand the company stop letting CBP agents onto its private buses. The ACLU argues the practice violates the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures.
“Greyhound is not obligated to permit warrantless CBP raids and to facilitate violations of its passengers’ civil rights," Amien Kacou, an immigration attorney at the ACLU of Florida, said in a news release. “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.”
Though sparked in part by the viral videos from South Florida, the ACLU's letter says CBP agents have also been storming onto Greyhound buses in nine other states: California, Washington, Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, Michigan, Maine, Texas, and Arizona. In California, one man says CBP agents stopped him because they said his "shoes looked suspicious." In August 2017, the ACLU says CBP agents in Vermont boarded a Greyhound bus, refused to let passengers leave, and demanded to see papers from everyone who had "accents or were not white.” The ACLU letter cites incidents from as early as 2015.
"Greyhound recently has said that the company believes it is 'required' to 'cooperate with [CBP] if they ask to board our buses,'" the ACLU letter reads. "We are aware of no such requirement. Rather, Greyhound has a Fourth Amendment right to deny CBP permission to board and search its buses without a judicial warrant. For the following reasons, we urge Greyhound to change its policy and to refuse CBP permission to conduct invasive bus raids without a warrant."
The viral clips from Florida have since emboldened the Miami area's nascent immigrant rights groups. In February, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Council of American-Islamic Relations Florida, and Florida Women's March (among other groups) issued a travel warning for immigrants moving through the state, and especially for anyone traveling through an airport or bus terminal.
"In light of these facts, all immigrants are urged to reconsider visiting Florida and especially recommended to avoid high-risk areas, including ports, airports, and Greyhound stations," the groups warned.
.@CustomsBorder got on a Greyhound bus yesterday at 4:30pm in Fort Lauderdale and asked every passenger for their papers and to prove citizenship. Proof of citizenship is NOT required to ride a bus! For more information about your rights, call our hotline 1-888-600-5762 pic.twitter.com/rWJn61o8VP— FLImmigrantCoalition (@FLImmigrant) January 20, 2018
Deportation arrests have spiked since Donald Trump took office (Florida saw the largest statewide jump in immigrant arrests in 2017), but apprehensions have not come close to reaching their peak under the Obama administration. In 2011, the Miami Herald warned that Greyhound bus raids were becoming increasingly common and noted that arrests on Greyhound vehicles had jumped 25 percent that year.
The ACLU, however, noted these specific kinds of bus raids saw a "rapid increase in the past year" under Trump. The civil rights group, however, now says it needs to explain basic concepts such as "search warrants" to
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"The Fourth Amendment protects businesses as well as individuals, and we believe Greyhound has the Fourth Amendment right to refuse consent to board its buses," the ACLU wrote. "Greyhound is in the business of transporting its passengers safely from place to place. It should not be in the business of subjecting its passengers to intimidating interrogations, suspicion-less searches, warrantless arrests, and the threat of deportation. We urge Greyhound to change its practices and policies to refuse CBP consent to board its buses without a warrant, except when legally required at the physical border or its equivalent."
A Greyhound spokesperson did not immediately respond to New Times' request for comment on the ACLU's letter.
Update 10:30 a.m.: A Greyhound spokesperson says the bus line has received the letter and is planning a more formal response, but that the company believes it has no choice but to allow ICE agents on its buses.
"We understand their concerns and those of our customers with regard to this matter," says Lanesha Gipson. "However, Greyhound is required to comply with the law. We are aware that routine transportation checks not only affect our operations, but our customers’ travel experience, and we will continue to do everything legally possible to minimize any negative experiences. Greyhound has opened a dialogue with the Border Patrol to see if there is anything that can be done to balance the enforcement of federal law with the dignity and privacy of our valued customers. "