A memo from the Border Patrol component of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) first reported last Friday by the Associated Press confirms what critics of Greyhounds’s collaboration with the US Border Patrol and other police have been saying for years: unless they have a warrant or in exigent circumstances, CBP agents can’t board Greyhound’s buses without Greyhound’s permission.
Greyhound has defended itself by claiming that it has no legal right to keep Border Patrol agents from boarding buses and questioning passengers. But those claims — which we’re pretty sure Greyhound’s lawyers have always known to be false — have now been shown to be directly contrary to the instructions given to all Border Patrol field supervisors:
When transportation checks occur on a bus at non-checkpoint locations, 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.
It’s time for Greyhound to stop making excuses or blaming the government for its corporate choices. Greyhound could and should decline to consent to police boarding its buses, and explicitly prohibit its employees and agents from giving such consent.
As we’ve noted before, Greyhound is the long-distance common carrier of last resort for people in the USA who don’t have, or don’t want to show, government credentials in order to move about the country. That makes Greyhound’s policies especially important.
In 2018, more than 200,000 people petitioned Greyhound to stop giving its corporate consent to CBP to routinely board Greyhound buses and interrogate Greyhound passengers without a warrant or suspicion of any crime.
As at other “border” checkpoints “near” but not at borders, and on routes that don’t cross any borders, many of these bus sweeps are intended more for enforcement of drug laws and for other general law enforcement purposes than for enforcement of customs laws. CBP officers take the lead, and provide the pretext for asking “consent” for searches, but are often accompanied by other Federal, state, and/or local law enforcement officers.
All of these warrantless, suspicionless dragnet bus sweeps legally depend on Greyhound’s consent to police to board and search its buses, just as entry onto or search of any private property by police generally requires a warrant, exigent circumstances, or the consent of the property owner.
But Greyhound and its owners have tried to pass the buck for its policies to the government. According to the AP:
Greyhound’s parent company, FirstGroup PLC, said last summer: “We are required by federal law to comply with the requests of federal agents. To suggest we have lawful choice in the matter is tendentious and false.”
Greyhound said that it appreciated the Border Patrol “clarifying” its policy. “We were unaware of USBP’s memo clarifying their practices regarding transportation and bus check operations,” the company said. “We are pleased there appears to be greater context about these practices as we have publicly stated we do not consent to these searches and maintain that position.”
Just as Greyhound’s previous claims to have no legal choice are directly contradicted by CBP directives to its agents, this new Greyhound statement that “we do not consent” is contradicted by the fact that CBP agents and their “joint task force” partners continue to board Greyhound buses every day, with Greyhound’s consent.
If Greyhound doesn’t consent to police searches, it has an easy way to make that clear: post notices at the entry doors to its buses stating that it does not consent to bus boardings by law enforcement officers without warrant or exigent circumstances, and stating that Greyhound personnel are not authorized to grant consent on behalf of the company.