The two uniformed U.S. Border Patrol agents clambered aboard a Greyhound bus in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and instructed passengers to show proof of citizenship.
“This is new?” a woman on the bus from Orlando to Miami asked fellow passengers as agents questioned another woman several seats in front of them. “You ridden on the bus before?”
“Yeah,” another passenger replied. “A police officer is not even allowed to ask for immigration papers.… You have no right to stop me and ask me for ID.”
Minutes later, the agents escorted the woman they had been questioning off the bus.
Video of the encounter Friday spread on social media over the last few days, generating fierce criticism from rights advocates who question the legality of such searches.
“Proof of citizenship is NOT required to ride a bus!” the Florida Immigrant Coalition said in a statement when it shared the video on Twitter.
Though immigration inspections on Greyhound buses are not widely publicized, they are not new. Border Patrol agents routinely conduct such inspections at transportation centers across Florida, the Customs and Border Protection’s Miami sector said in a statement Tuesday.
Over the years, activists have voiced concern in cities from Miami to Spokane, Wash.
Some activists say that such enforcement actions violate the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The ACLU of Florida said it was investigating what happened at the Fort Lauderdale bus station. “We are extremely concerned with the contents of this video,” it said in a statement.
“Immigration raids yield to unconstitutional practices that can violate the right to equal protection and the Fourth Amendment by coercing vulnerable individuals to submit to interrogations about their citizenship and immigration status, conducting unreasonable searches and seizure and targeting people of color,” the statement said.
Customs and Border Protection officials say they are following federal regulations. The Immigration and Nationality Act allows immigration officers to conduct searches, without a warrant, within 100 miles of any U.S. border. The entire state of Florida is within 100 miles of the coast.
With tickets from Orlando to Miami selling from as little as $28, Greyhound is a popular means of travel for many poor, working people, including immigrants. Many do not have driver’s licenses.
Border Patrol agents should not be allowed to board private Greyhound buses to question travelers without a judicial warrant, said Isabel Sousa-Rodriguez, membership director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition.
“This creates terrifying concerns for our community,” she said. “Are Border Patrol officers going to be stopping us and asking us for our citizenship when we are at public parks, when we go to get groceries, when our kids are walking to school?”
While Customs and Border Protection officials say such inspections are vital to national security, activists counter that they erode public trust in police, breed fear and threaten public safety.
Sousa-Rodriguez said there was a need for stricter limits and parameters to the 100-mile rule, as well as more accountability and training of officers.
“Is there anywhere in our state that we are safe from the harassment and invasion and infringement upon our civil liberties?” she said. “Do we have any protections in this country anymore?”
The video, which as of Tuesday afternoon had amassed 2.3 million views since it was posted Saturday, shows two uniformed officers, with “POLICE U.S. BORDER PATROL” emblazoned on the back of their shirts, walking through the bus.
As the video rolls, passengers near the back of the bus lift up their cellphones to shoot videos. Among themselves, some question the agents' right to demand identification.
After questioning the woman near the middle of the bus and inspecting her identification, an agent asks: “Where’s your luggage?”
He then pulls a red suitcase from an overhead bin and instructs her to exit.
The woman was heading to a friend’s house in Miami after visiting family in Virginia and meeting her granddaughter for the first time, Sousa-Rodriguez said.
In statement Saturday shared by the coalition, the woman’s daughter-in-law said she was concerned about the officers questioning the woman without a lawyer present.
The Border Patrol’s Miami sector said Tuesday that agents arrested a Jamaican woman at the Fort Lauderdale bus station. Officials said the woman had overstayed her visa and was transported to the Dania Beach Border Patrol station and then turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation proceedings.
Activists in Florida say they have long heard regular complaints from immigrants using Greyhound, but the number of calls appears to have gone up in recent months.
“We’ve gotten calls from people who have seen immigration officers on their buses in Tallahassee, in Gainesville, in Tampa, in Orlando,” Sousa-Rodriguez said. “It’s really a pervasive problem.”
With mounting criticism of its practice of allowing Border Patrol agents on its buses, Greyhound released a statement saying it was required to follow all local, state and federal laws and cooperate with enforcement agencies.
“We hear you, and we are listening,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, even routine transportation checks negatively impact our operations and some customers directly.