Lawsuit asserts Greyhound failed to protect customers from CBP’s warrantless and suspicionless immigration sweeps on buses
SPOKANE — A Superior Court judge in Spokane has denied an attempt by Greyhound Lines Inc. to dismiss Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s lawsuit against the national bus line company. The lawsuit, filed in April, seeks to hold Greyhound accountable for its practice of allowing U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) agents to board its buses and conduct warrantless and suspicionless immigration sweeps of Greyhound passengers at the Spokane Intermodal Center, and repeatedly refusing to implement reforms to protect its passengers.
Judge Maryann C. Moreno rejected Greyhound’s argument that the company has no choice but to allow federal immigration officials to board its buses and conduct the sweeps.
The company continues to wrongly argue that it has no choice but to allow federal immigration officials aboard its buses, despite publicly stating earlier this year that it would no longer give CBP permission to conduct the warrantless sweeps.
Multiple U.S. Supreme Court rulings limit CBP’s authority to conduct warrantless and suspicionless searches without consent, Ferguson asserts. In addition, CPB’s own protocols contradict Greyhound’s position, stating that agents conducting transportation check operations “have no inherent authority to simply board a common carrier without at least reasonable suspicion or consent.” Absent consent, agents are directed to “terminate the encounter.”
“Today’s ruling affirms that Greyhound has the power and responsibility to stand up for its customers and stop allowing CBP’s suspicionless bus raids and harassment,” Ferguson said. “Greyhound must formally change its policies, implement appropriate training, warn its passengers, and be held accountable for the harm the company has caused.”
Ferguson’s lawsuit alleges that Greyhound allowed the sweeps aboard its buses since at least 2013. Greyhound publicly acknowledged the sweeps in 2018. Greyhound has publicly acknowledged since at least mid-2018 that CBP immigration sweeps on its buses harm Greyhound’s passengers.
Immigration sweeps aboard Greyhound buses delay travel for all passengers. During the sweeps, Latinx and other passengers of color are freely questioned at length and often required to get off the bus. CBP agents sometimes detain or arrest passengers, or rifle through their luggage, while others watch.
Greyhound’s conduct caused, and continues to cause, passengers to experience travel delays, missed connections, alarm, fear, questioning, search, and detention by federal immigration officials, and/or discrimination on the basis of race, color and/or national origin.
Ferguson’s office began urging Greyhound to change its practice of voluntarily allowing the sweeps in February of 2019. Greyhound refused to change its practices. Ferguson sent Greyhound a letter on May 28, 2019, demanding Greyhound make specific reforms to protect its customers, including:
- Adequate point-of-sale notice to its customers of the risks of warrantless and suspicionless searches;
- A clear corporate policy that it would deny CBP agents permission to board its buses without warrants or reasonable suspicion; and
- Training for its drivers to communicate the corporate policy to CBP agents.
Greyhound refused. The company continued to fail to provide adequate notice to its customers of the risk of immigration sweeps on its buses. Moreover, it refused to implement a corporate policy to deny CBP agents permission to board its buses without warrants or at least reasonable suspicion. Finally, the company refused to provide updated training to its drivers and agents on the same topic.
In response to mounting public pressure resulting from media coverage of the sweeps, the company privately communicated with CBP in April 2018. According to a federal employee recounting a conversation with Greyhound, the company remained committed to supporting CBP enforcement actions, but felt “abandoned” by CBP in the face of public pressure, the lawsuit asserts.
For years, Greyhound claimed that the company was “required to comply with the law by allowing Border Patrol agents to board our buses when they ask to do so,” even though CBP’s own materials contradict Greyhound’s assertion, stating that agents may only board buses to conduct warrantless and suspicionless enforcement sweeps with the consent of the bus company.
In February of this year, a memo from then-U.S. Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost surfaced that confirmed Ferguson’s contention that CBP agents can only perform warrantless and suspicionless immigration sweeps on board buses with the consent of the company’s owner or employees. The memo undermined Greyhound’s public position and confirmed Ferguson’s legal analysis, which he shared with the company back in 2019. A week after the memo was reported in the media, Greyhound stated to the media that it would no longer allow the searches.
Despite its public statements, Greyhound continues to fail to provide adequate notice to its customers about the risk that they will be subjected to warrantless and suspicionless searches. Greyhound continues to wrongly argue that the company has no choice but to allow federal immigration officials to board its buses and conduct the sweeps, even though for months the company has been aware that CPB’s own materials contradict their position.
Greyhound’s conduct violates the Consumer Protection Act and Washington’s Law Against Discrimination
Ferguson’s lawsuit asserts that Greyhound’s conduct violates the state Consumer Protection Act’s prohibition on “unfair and deceptive” business practices.
Ferguson’s lawsuit also charges that Greyhound’s conduct violates the Washington Law Against Discrimination. Greyhound knows its policy disproportionately harms its Latinx passengers and passengers of color.
Ferguson’s lawsuit demands that Greyhound change its practices by providing adequate notice to customers about the risk of warrantless and suspicionless immigration sweeps. Meaningful notice will ensure Washingtonians can make an informed choice when purchasing a ticket with Greyhound. Adequate notice will also prevent Greyhound from gaining an unfair advantage over its competitor passenger bus companies that operate in Spokane and have taken steps to better protect their riders.
Ferguson seeks a court order prohibiting Greyhound from allowing warrantless and suspicionless immigration sweeps aboard its buses, and penalties to hold the company accountable for its past conduct.
Anyone impacted by an immigration sweep on a Greyhound bus at the Spokane Intermodal Center, or anywhere else in Washington, should contact the Attorney General’s Wing Luke Civil Rights Division at 1-833-660-4877, and choose option 8 from the main menu, or by email at Greyhound@atg.wa.gov.
Assistant Attorneys General Lane Polozola and Yesica Hernandez with the AGO’s Wing Luke Civil Rights Division are handling the case for Washington.
Ferguson created the Wing Luke Civil Rights Division in 2015 to protect the rights of all Washington residents by enforcing state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Ferguson named the division for Wing Luke, who served as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Washington in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He went on to become the first person of color elected to the Seattle City Council and the first Asian-American elected to public office in the Pacific Northwest.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.email@example.com
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