Washington AG Ferguson files lawsuit against Greyhound for failure to protect customers from CBP’s warrantless and suspicionless immigration sweeps on buses
(STL.News) – Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed a lawsuit in Spokane County Superior Court against Greyhound Lines Inc. The lawsuit seeks to hold Greyhound accountable for the bus line’s 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 passengers.
The lawsuit asserts that Greyhound’s practices violate the state Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination. The Attorney General’s enforcement action comes after more than a year of Ferguson urging Greyhound to protect its customers from CBP agents’ warrantless and suspicionless immigration sweeps on its buses. For example, since first contacting Greyhound, Ferguson urged Greyhound to provide adequate notice to its customers of the risks of the sweeps, enact a clear corporate policy denying CBP permission to board its buses without warrants or reasonable suspicion, and provide training for its drivers on communicating that policy to agents.
Greyhound continually refused to implement these changes to protect its customers.
Despite public statements in February 2020 that it would no longer allow the warrantless sweeps, Greyhound has still not updated its public-facing policies. The company continues to fail to provide adequate notice to its customers about the risk that they will likely be subjected to warrantless searches. Greyhound continues to wrongly suggest on its website 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 officials contradict their position.
“Greyhound must reform its practices, and warn customers of the risk they face of being interrogated by immigration agents without cause,” Ferguson said. “Greyhound’s customers have suffered for far too long because of the company’s indifference. Greyhound’s recent public reversal isn’t enough to erase the negative impact of its conduct.”
Individuals impacted by warrantless immigration sweeps on Greyhound buses
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.
Without advance warning of the sweeps, many passengers — including those with lawful status — face delays, stress and embarrassment. Immigration sweeps aboard Greyhound buses delay travel for all passengers. During the sweeps, Latinx and other passengers of color, regardless of their immigration status, are freely questioned at length and often required to get off the bus. CBP agents rifle through their luggage. CBP agents sometimes detain or arrest passengers while others watch.
The media has reported on several of these. For example, a DREAMer (DACA recipient) and his father were both detained after CBP agents boarded their Greyhound bus.
“I had DACA. They said it expired,” the son told a reporter. “They said Trump already took that away.”
The agents were not correct — the son did have DACA status, which means he has protection against immigration enforcement actions. He was released hours later, after his mother texted a photo of his paperwork. CBP agents took his father to the Tacoma detention facility.
“I wish they would post it on the Greyhound website or have some kind of announcement to bring document(s) with you,” the son said.
Another report detailed an incident involving a mother who was traveling home after spending time with her daughters in Seattle to recover from a stroke. She was detained for two nights after being removed from her bus at the Intermodal Center. While in jail, she told reporters, she was afraid she could have another stroke because her heart rate was so elevated.
“Really, really bad experience when I was in jail,” she said. “I’ve never been in jail before, and there was nobody there to help me. I was all by myself.”
In January of 2019, comedian Mohanad Elshieky was removed from his Greyhound bus in Spokane, detained and questioned by CBP agents who accused him of being in the country unlawfully, even though he was lawfully present in the U.S.
Elshieky was granted asylum in the United States and is in the process of applying for permanent residency. He fled his native Libya’s civil war. When he was removed from his Greyhound bus, he described a tearful and anxiety-filled bus ride where he was afraid he would be sent back to Libya. He has told media he still suffers from nightmares.
“I have been stopped and questioned before by people who are militia members, where there are no laws at the time to stop them from doing so,” he told a reporter. “It just shows you that people across the world can have the same mentality, which is not OK. It’s an abuse of power that needs to stop.”
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.
Greyhound’s resistance to public pressure
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 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 that it would deny CBP agents permission to board its buses without warrants or 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.
Greyhound refuses to change its practices, contradicting its public assertions
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 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 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.
In contrast with its statements to the media however, Greyhound has still failed to change its public-facing policies on its websites with respect to immigration sweeps. Its websites instead continue to wrongly and misleadingly communicate that Greyhound has no choice but to allow federal immigration officials on board its buses. Further, Greyhound has not updated its sales practices to provide specific or adequate notice at the point of sale, whether in-person or via the Internet or telephone, regarding the likely travel disruptions and impacts due to immigration sweeps on its buses or at its bus terminals — in Spokane or elsewhere. Greyhound likewise has provided no notice or warning that questioning, search, detention, or arrest are particularly likely for non-citizens and Latinx passengers or other passengers of color. As a result, passengers may continue to be subject to surprise immigration sweeps on Greyhound buses.
Ferguson charges 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, regardless of their immigration status.
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.