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Greyhound Under Fire After Allowing Border Patrol To Conduct Sweeps On Its Buses


The nation's largest bus carrier, Greyhound, has often said it doesn't want to let Border Patrol agents on its buses to check for people in the country illegally, but the company says its hands are tied. Federal law requires them to comply. Well, that may not be true. A recent Customs and Border Protection memo makes it clear that companies like Greyhound do not have to let agents on board to conduct routine checks. The Associated Press got hold of this memo, and reporter Gene Johnson is with us now.

Hi there.


SHAPIRO: So this memo is dated January 28. What does it say?

JOHNSON: Well, the memo makes clear that when Border Patrol agents want to get on board a bus, they need to have the consent of the company or of an employee, such as a bus driver, to do so.

SHAPIRO: And how does that contradict what Greyhound has said?

JOHNSON: Well, Greyhound has long said that federal law allows the Border Patrol to board any conveyance that's within a reasonable distance from the border - that's typically defined as a hundred miles - and that there is nothing the company can do about it.

SHAPIRO: When you got this memo, you reached out to Greyhound. What did they say then?

JOHNSON: Well, they have just said, we don't consent to this. We don't like it. But they have not said whether this memo will change anything for them.

SHAPIRO: You also reached out to the union that represents bus drivers. And what was their response?

JOHNSON: They actually have not gotten back to me. They have previously expressed a lot of concern about this. They think that allowing Border Patrol agents to come on the bus and haul people off if they don't have documents proving that they're in the country legally - they've said that that creates a danger for passengers and drivers alike. And they want Greyhound to make it clear that it does not want Border Patrol agents coming on.

SHAPIRO: Greyhound has been under legal pressure over this practice. There's a lawsuit in California. There has been talk of a similar one in Washington. How might this memo affect that?

JOHNSON: Well, the advocates - immigrant rights advocates and the ACLU as well as the Washington state attorney general's office had said that this gives them more leverage as they try to get Greyhound to change their practice.

SHAPIRO: Sweeps like this disrupt service. They disturb passengers. They don't seem very good for business. Do you have any insight into why Greyhound would have allowed them up till now?

JOHNSON: I think it's simply that Greyhound has interpreted the case law to require this. You know, there's a Supreme Court ruling from 1973 that seems to say that despite what the federal law says, the Constitution still requires that Border Patrol agents have consent or a warrant if they want to search a private vehicle. Greyhound has said it doesn't believe that that extends to a commercial carrier like itself.

SHAPIRO: Greyhound is the biggest bus company. How do some of the others handle these situations?

JOHNSON: Some of the other bus companies that have been contacted have changed their practices, saying, you know, my company does not allow or does not consent to Border Patrol agents coming on. Some of them have stickers that have been placed on the bus doors or bus windows. Now, a number of these companies also will say that they're not going to put their drivers in the position of physically refusing an agent's entry onto the bus, but they say that that's something for the courts to handle later.

SHAPIRO: Gene Johnson, thank you for sharing your reporting with us.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: He's with the Associated Press. And we also reached out to Greyhound. They declined to comment.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMIE XX'S "OBVS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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