SPOKANE, Wash. – Spokane City Council President and mayoral candidate Ben Stuckart is speaking out about border patrol agents' presence on Greyhound buses in Spokane.
Stuckart wrote a letter to Greyhound Lines, Inc. CEO Dave Leach and Greyhound’s senior legal Tricia Martinez on June 13. In that letter, he cites Title 18 – called Spokane’s Human Rights Law – of the Spokane Municipal code, which “prohibits discrimination.”
Border Patrol agents sometimes walk onto buses without a warrant and ask riders for their citizenship and immigration status. Federal code allows them to do bus checks as long as they are within 100 miles of a U.S. border. Spokane is just within that limit at 90 miles from the Canadian border. Border patrol officials said they do not target riders for any specific reason.
In the letter, Stuckart expressed his concern about Greyhound’s decision to allow Customs and Border Protection officials onto their buses at Spokane’s Intermodal Center. He says these efforts may violate Title 18 assurances of “equal participation…in public accommodations.”
An excerpt of the letter reads:
Over the past year, I have learned that Greyhound routinely grants CBP access to its passengers while at the Intermodal Center. The actions of CBP, both on the buses and in the Intermodal Center, have had a profound impact on some Spokane residents. Reports indicate that CBP may be unfairly targeting people of color, in part by making assumptions about their citizenship status. In other words, CBP may be engaging in racial profiling at the Intermodal Center.
Stuckart cites several examples, including one where CBP agents reportedly confronted a Latino family on a Greyhound bus at the Intermodal Center and asked, “Are you illegal?” and, “Do you have documents on you?”
In March, a Spokane resident traveling to Seattle on a Greyhound bus was reportedly questioned at the Intermodal Station, according to Stuckart’s letter. She said agents “only spent time questioning individuals that had darker skin or had an accent.”
Greyhound’s decision to allow CBP agents to access their passengers in Spokane can maintain “a fearful and hostile environment…for people of color in Spokane,” Stuckart wrote.
Stuckart also wrote that the American Civil Liberties Union has recently contended that Greyhound has a Fourth Amendment right to refuse consent to board its buses, though the company has publicly stated it is “required” to allow the agents onto its buses.
He concluded with this statement:
Greyhound has been a long-term tenant of Spokane’s Intermodal Center and I look forward to continuing that relationship. Spokane’s anti-discrimination ordinances mean little if the City of Spokane cannot ensure compliance with them on its own property, such as the Intermodal Center. I would like to set up a meeting to discuss this issue with you further and to understand whether you would consider alternative actions Greyhound can take to ensure that all people, regardless of their race or national origin, feel welcome in your buses and stations.
You can find a link to the full letter on the City of Spokane's website.
Greyhound Senior Communications Specialist Lanesha Gipson issued a statement Tuesday about the company's policies.
"In terms of our policy, while we are required to comply with the law by allowing Border Patrol agents to board our buses when they ask to do so, we do not support or coordinate these searches, nor are we happy about them. We understand that this practice negatively impacts our customers, and we have started conversations with the Border Patrol to determine if there is anything that can be done to balance the enforcement of federal law with the dignity and privacy of our valued customers.
Greyhound is a private company caught in the middle of an issue that is not in our control. Our drivers face arrest and fines for obstructing these agents, and we would not want to put their safety, or the safety of our passengers at risk by attempting to physically stop a federal agent from boarding."
A U.S Customs and Border Protection spokesperson issued a statement as well that said:
“For decades, U.S. Border Patrol agents have routinely engaged in enforcement operations at transportation hubs throughout the nation. Enforcement actions away from the border are within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Border Patrol and performed in direct support of immediate border enforcement efforts and as a means of preventing smuggling and criminal organizations from exploiting existing transportation hubs to travel to the interior of the United States. These operations at transportation hubs serve as a vital component of the U.S. Border Patrol’s national security efforts.
Transportation hubs are used by alien smuggling and drug trafficking organizations to move people, narcotics, and contraband to interior destinations throughout the country. To combat these growing threats, the U.S. Border Patrol has increased the frequency of transportation checks around the country as an additional enforcement mechanism to reinforce CBP’s world-class approach to border security. Approval for transportation checks was centralized at Border Patrol Headquarters in 2012. In 2017, the Border Patrol returned approval authority to the Chief Patrol Agents for each Border Patrol Sector.
Although most Border Patrol work is conducted in the immediate border area, agents have broad law enforcement authorities, including the authority to question individuals, make arrests, and take and consider evidence. The Immigration and Nationality Act 287(a)(3) and 8 USC 1357 state that Immigration Officers, without a warrant, may "within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States...board and search for aliens in any vessel within the territorial waters of the United States and any railcar, aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle”. 8 CFR 287 (a)(1) defines reasonable distance as 100 air miles from the border.”