Greyhound penalized for illegal sweeps

For years, the Border Patrol unlawfully questioned people of color on buses. PHOTO: Josh Denmark / CBP
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Greyhound Lines has profited greatly as the go-to transport for detained migrants at the borders. And for more than a decade they allowed U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to conduct illegal sweeps on their public buses. These fishing expeditions targeted people of color.

But in September 2021 the bus line agreed to pay restitution of $2.2 million to victims of raids conducted at the Spokane, Washington, depot.

A decade of protest and community organizing across Washington state led to this victory.

In 2008, as soon as the Border Patrol set up checkpoints on the Olympic Peninsula, demonstrators began protesting. The CBP roadblocks were a result of border enforcement expanding sixfold in the north. As well as stopping cars, agents boarded buses and ferries. Their cohorts in Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) raided local ethnic restaurants to check work permits.

Lois Danks of the Freedom Socialist Party initiated the grassroots group Stop the Checkpoints. She remembers the instantaneous anger at the violations of civil liberties and racist mistreatment in her community. For five years, Stop the Checkpoints picketed, marched, held forums and participated in rowdy town halls. Their protests forced the regional bus line to post ‘Know Your Rights’ signs.

Not only did they stop the checkpoints, they forced the bus company to publicly discourage the Border Patrol from boarding.

Most importantly, they showed the public that the federal government could be challenged through community pressure.

Five years later, in Eastern Washington, the Border Patrol targeted Greyhound at the Spokane bus terminal — 97 miles from the border. Armed agents boarded buses without warrants. They questioned passengers of color, often forced them off the bus, then detained, arrested, or searched them. Some were deported. The Spokesman Review reported 200 people were entrapped between 2013 and 2018.

Again, the community rose to stop the harassment. Because many clients refused to use the bus to reach Planned Parenthood, the clinic’s Lilly Navarette started organizing. In 2018, Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho teamed up with the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network to stage a rally at the bus depot. Eventually, the Spokane City Council passed a law restricting agents from operating without permission at the depot.

The problem was that CBP had permission. “We work with consent from Greyhound when we board their buses,” the Border Patrol Spokane sector special operations supervisor admitted to The Intercept.

The Washington Attorney General sued Greyhound in 2020. He charged that they failed to warn customers of the sweeps and subjected passengers to discrimination. On the eve of the trial, the bus company settled. In addition to paying the $2.2 million compensation, they agreed to ban sweeps conducted without warrants and to inform passengers of their rights. It’s unclear if they will carry out this policy nationally.

Lilly Navarette said of the settlement “This is an accomplishment that shows we can do it.” She credits the victory to the Spokane organizations that worked together. Added Lois Danks, “Both of these victories show that we can stand up to the Border Patrol. We can stop incidences of racism and anti-immigrant bigotry!”

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