Border Patrol: Bus passengers still subject to immigration searches at highway checkpoints

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Greyhound's demands to see warrants before questioning doesn't apply at Southwest highway checkpoints

A tractor-trailer rig passes through the U.S. Customs inspection station at Sierra Blanca, east of El Paso, Texas on April 29, 2004. (AP Photo/J.R. Hernandez)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Buses remain subject to searches and their passengers liable to immigration checks at highway checkpoints leading to the interior of the United States, the Border Patrol said on Monday.

The clarification comes a few days after Greyhound, the nation’s largest bus company, said it will stop allowing Border Patrol to board its buses and do immigration checks without a warrant in restricted areas of its terminals.

“The recent position from Greyhound not allowing agents to board and search without a warrant does not impact our traffic checkpoints. ALL conveyances and occupants are subject to stop and immigration inspections at traffic checkpoints,” the Border Patrol said in a statement to Border Report.

These roadside stations operate within 100 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border along Interstate 10, Interstate 25 and roads leading from South Texas to I-35. Drug seizures, migrant apprehensions and the capture of fugitives are common occurrences there. Just last week, Cleveland Browns player Gregory Robinson and another man were arrested at the Sierra Blanca, Texas, checkpoint in a rental car loaded with 157 pounds of marijuana.

Civil rights organizations have long complained about a hindrance to free transit and to other constitutional guarantees at these checkpoints, but the Border Patrol said they operate in accordance with judicial rulings.

But immigration advocates in El Paso said they weren’t surprised about the limited impact of Greyhound’s announcement.

“While Greyhound is showing some sensibility toward its customers, the fact is that people riding buses, including those of us who are U.S. citizens, will still be subjected to questioning, searches of personal property and even profiling,” said Carlos Marentes, executive director of the Border Agricultural Workers Center in El Paso.

In this April 2, 2019, file photo an asylum seeker from Guatemala boards a Greyhound bus in El Paso, Texas. A Customs and Border Protection memo dated Jan. 28, 2020, obtained by The Associated Press confirms that bus companies such as Greyhound do not have to allow Border Patrol agents on board to conduct routine checks for illegal immigrants, despite the company’s insistence that it has no choice but to do so. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio, File)

And if Greyhound has at least taken a public stand, the many other commercial and charter bus companies that operate on the border have not. The activist said he doesn’t know any commercial bus driver who won’t stop when a Border Patrol vehicle flashes its lights or prevent an immigration agent from coming on board in the middle of nowhere.

“We are living in a highly militarized region where constitutional rights are null since (President) Trump gave the green light to proceed against all immigrants,” Marentes said. “We live under no pretense that we have the right to free transit, the right not to be stopped and questioned.”

The activist said most people who ride Greyhound and other bus lines are either U.S. citizens or legal residents — undocumented immigrants avoid buses because they know about the Border Patrol checkpoints, he said.

In a statement, a Greyhound spokeswoman said the bus company recently became aware of the Border Patrol’s “change in protocol” regarding its policy on consent during bus checks. The statement said Greyhound is working diligently to develop clear communications for both our customers and team members regarding this policy change.

“We welcome the clarity that this change in protocol brings, as it aligns with our previously stated position which is that we do not consent to warrantless searches; we are providing drivers and terminal employees with updated training regarding this policy change. We will also place stickers on all of our buses clearly displaying our position. In addition, Greyhound will be sending a letter to the Department of Homeland Security formally stating we do not consent to warrantless searches on our buses and in terminal areas that are not open to the general public. Our primary concern is the safety of our customers and team members, and we are confident these changes will lead to an improved experience for all parties involved. We plan to begin the implementation of these changes immediately,” the statement said.

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