• The San Juan Daily Star

Greyhound agrees to pay $2.2 million over immigration sweeps on buses

By Michael Levenson

Greyhound Lines will pay $2.2 million to resolve a lawsuit filed by Washington state that accused it of allowing U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to conduct warrantless immigration sweeps on its buses, state officials said this week.

Washington state’s attorney general said the settlement would be used to provide restitution to passengers who were detained, arrested or deported after immigration agents boarded their buses at the Spokane Intermodal Center, and for partial reimbursement of his office’s litigation costs.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced the settlement Monday, the day that a lawsuit he had filed against Greyhound was set to go to trial.

Ferguson’s office estimates that since 2013, as many as 57,000 passengers may have been on buses that were boarded by immigration agents at the Spokane Intermodal Center. The office said that about 250 of those passengers might have been detained.

The individual payments will depend on the number of claims made and the severity of the harm that each person experienced as a result of Greyhound’s conduct, Ferguson said.

The settlement was included in a consent decree that was filed in Spokane County Superior Court. It resolved a lawsuit that Ferguson filed in April 2020 that accused Greyhound of allowing immigration sweeps on its buses in violation of the state’s consumer protection law and the state’s law against discrimination. Greyhound publicly acknowledged the sweeps in 2018, Ferguson said.

In addition to paying $2.2 million, Greyhound agreed to a number of policy changes, some of which the company said it had begun last year to put into effect.

Greyhound must create a policy that explicitly forbids Customs and Border Protection agents from boarding its buses in Washington state without warrants or “reasonable suspicion,” Ferguson said.

Greyhound must also place stickers on or near the front door of its buses that communicate that policy to passengers, and it must give its drivers placards explaining the policy that they can hand to immigration agents, he said.

“My office first insisted that Greyhound make these corporate reforms in 2019,” Ferguson said in a statement. “If Greyhound had simply accepted our reasonable demand, they would have avoided a lawsuit.

“Now, on the eve of trial, Greyhound’s evasion has come to an end, and now it must pay $2 million for the harm it caused Washingtonians,” he said. “Greyhound has an obligation to its customers — an obligation it cannot set aside so immigration agents can go on fishing expeditions aboard its buses.”

Greyhound said in a statement that it was pleased to have reached the agreement.

“By agreeing to the consent decree, we will more extensively communicate to our customers the policies and procedures we already have in place to serve the citizens of Washington state,” the company said in a statement.

For years, Greyhound had been allowing immigration agents to board its buses without warrants, citing a law that it said it didn’t agree with.

During the Trump administration, when the White House sought to crack down on illegal immigration, passengers aboard buses and trains on domestic routes were subjected to immigration checks, and Border Patrol officers were found working without permission on private property and setting up checkpoints up to 100 miles from the border.

In February 2020, Greyhound announced that it would no longer allow Border Patrol agents to conduct immigration checks on its buses without warrants.

Greyhound said last year that it would place stickers on its buses “clearly displaying our position,” and that it planned to send 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.”

The company made the announcement one week after a leaked government memo revealed that agents could not board buses without consent.

In the memo, which was first reported by The Associated Press, the Border Patrol chief confirmed that agents were prohibited from boarding buses to question passengers without warrants or the bus company’s consent.

“When transportation checks occur on a bus at noncheckpoint locations,” Chief Carla Provost wrote in the memo, “the agent must demonstrate that he or she gained access to the bus with the consent of the company’s owner or one of the company’s employees.”

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