As a Greyhound bus pulled up to a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., station on Friday afternoon, en route from Orlando to Miami, the driver announced there would be a “routine” security checkpoint.
Two uniformed officers boarded the bus and introduced themselves as Border Patrol agents, passengers told the Florida Immigrant Coalition, an advocacy group. The officers made their way down the center aisle, row by row, questioning passengers. They instructed each person to present “a U.S. identification or a passport with a stamp of entrance,” one passenger, Raquel Quesada, told CBS4.
From the back of the bus, passengers began filming the scene on their cellphones, quietly discussing what was happening in front of them. “This is new?” one woman is heard asking another passenger on the video, which was shared on Twitter by the Florida Immigrant Coalition.
About halfway down the aisle, the officers stopped to question a woman of Caribbean descent: “Do you have luggage?” He pulled a red roller suitcase from the overhead bin. “This is yours?” he asked. Then the two officers escorted the woman off the bus.
The woman was later arrested, transported to a Border Patrol station for questioning and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for removal proceedings, the Border Patrol confirmed to the Miami Herald.
The agency explained that “while performing an immigration inspection at a Fort Lauderdale bus station, Border Patrol agents identified a passenger who was illegally residing in the United States,” according to the statement in the Miami Herald. “The subject was an adult female that had overstayed her tourist visa.”
The woman, a Jamaican national in her 60s, had planned to stay with a friend in Florida after visiting her daughter-in-law in Virginia, the advocacy group’s membership director, Isabel Sousa-Rodriguez, told The Washington Post. It had been the woman’s first time meeting her granddaughter, the daughter-in-law, who did not identify herself by name, said in a statement posted by the advocacy group.
After the visit in Virginia last week, she dropped off her mother-in-law at the Greyhound bus station in Richmond on Friday morning and never heard from her again. The woman is currently in detention at the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach and her daughter-in-law has been unable to reach her, Sousa-Rodriguez said.
“I’m very concerned about these officers questioning her without a lawyer present,” the daughter-in-law said in a statement through the Florida Immigrant Coalition.
The video of Friday’s exchange on the Greyhound bus has been viewed more than 2.3 million times. Amid the Trump administration’s efforts to embolden immigration authorities and ramp up immigration arrests, the video has stirred fear among activists in Florida and beyond. It has also prompted a wave of outrage among civil liberties advocates, who have questioned the legality of the inspection.
“Without an official judicial warrant, Border Patrol agents should not be permitted to board the private property of the Greyhound corporation to harass its customers and violate their civil liberties,” Sousa-Rodriguez said in a statement. “Floridians deserve to ride a bus in peace without having to carry a birth certificate or passport to go to Disney World, visit family, or commute for work.”
On Monday, Greyhound released a statement addressing concerns over the inspection at Fort Lauderdale:
We hear you, and we are listening. We are required to comply with all local, state and federal laws and to cooperate with the relevant enforcement agencies if they ask to board our buses or enter stations. Unfortunately, even routine transportation checks negatively impact our operations and some customers directly. We encourage anyone with concerns about what happened to reach out directly to these agencies. Greyhound will also reach out to the agencies to see if there is anything we can do on our end to minimize any negative effect of this process.
But according to Sousa-Rodriguez, such Border Patrol inspections on buses are not uncommon — or new.
“Greyhound has kind of become notorious over the years for allowing immigration agents onto buses,” Sousa-Rodriguez said in an interview with The Post. What made this instance notable was the fact that it was captured on video.
Indeed, similar news reports of routine bus checks have emerged in the past year. In February of last year, for example, a councilman from Spokane, Wash., addressed accounts that Border Patrol agents were checking passenger identification at the city’s Greyhound station. The councilman said he learned Border Patrol conducts the routine bus checks “a couple of times a day.” A Customs and Border Protection spokesman told the Spokesman-Review that the agency had been doing such checks for several years.
In 2005, the Associated Press reported on an internal policy at Greyhound in which the company threatened to fire employees who sold bus tickets to undocumented immigrants. Hispanic advocacy groups at the time condemned the policy as an invitation to racial profiling.
Many passengers on the bus Friday argued that they don’t have to carry proof-of-citizenship documents because their travels did not include the crossing of any federal borders, the Florida Immigrant Coalition said in a statement. In fact, Sousa-Rodriguez said, many people who depend on Greyhound to get around don’t have driver’s licenses.
Federal regulations give Customs and Border Protection wide-ranging authority to operate within 100 miles of any U.S. border. About two-thirds of the United States population live within 100 miles of a U.S. land or coastal border. The entire state of Florida is within such a zone.
Within these boundaries, Border Patrol can, without a warrant, interrogate or arrest any person that they have reason to believe is in the country illegally and is likely to escape before an arrest warrant can be obtained.
The Immigration and Nationality Act also states that immigration officers can, without a warrant and “within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States” board and search for undocumented immigrants “in any vessel within the territorial waters of the United States and any railcar, aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle.”
The American Civil Liberties Union notes that immigration authorities cannot pull anyone over without “reasonable suspicion” of an immigration violation or crime. Nor can they search vehicles without a warrant or probable cause that an immigration violation or crime has likely occurred. The ACLU argues that Border Patrol agents “routinely ignore or misunderstand the limits of their legal authority in the course of individual stops, resulting in violations of the constitutional rights of innocent people.”
Angus Johnston, a City University of New York professor, tweeted the video of the Greyhound bus inspection along with a warning.
“If you’re documented and don’t have any warrants, the time to think about whether and how you’d refuse to comply with such requests is now,” Johnston said. “The roundups are getting worse. The checkpoints are getting worse. The harassment is getting worse. The things we were worried would happen are happening.”
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