U.S. federal agents demand immigration papers from commuters at Florida bus terminals

August 17, 2019 at 07:00 am | News

Mildred Europa Taylor

Mildred Europa Taylor | Associate Editor

August 17, 2019 at 07:00 am | News

The U.S. Border Patrol makes routine inspections of intercity buses within 100 miles of the border. Pic Credit: Washington Post

As the Trump administration increases immigration enforcement on the southern border, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents have been seen at South Florida Greyhound bus stations asking riders for proof of legal status.

The move is part of efforts to apprehend undocumented immigrants in South Florida, the Miami Herald reports.

Customs and Border Patrol officials have been spotted by commuters at Greyhound bus stations across Miami-Dade and Broward counties, asking riders on buses, or those in the process of boarding a bus, for proof of legal status.

“U.S. Border Patrol has been performing enforcement actions away from the immediate border in direct support of border enforcement efforts and as a means of preventing trafficking, smuggling and other criminal organizations from exploiting our public and private transportation infrastructure to travel to the interior of the United States,” the U.S. Border Patrol confirmed in a statement to Miami Herald.

“Agents in Florida enforce immigration law while working closely with local, state and federal law enforcement partners to keep communities safe while securing the coastal borders.”

Known as “transportation checks” by Border Patrol agents, bus and train searches are not new. Such checks were then a large part of agents’ daily activities in some northern border sectors, a recent report by NBC News said.

Advocates have, however, argued against these checks for years, with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) describing them as unlawful racial profiling as far back as 2011.

Between 2010 and 2012, the Obama administration restricted when these transportation checks could occur, requiring “clear intelligence about smuggling or other criminal activity and approval from Border Patrol headquarters.” But Trump has since relaxed these restrictions and reports of Border Patrol on buses have begun to increase.

“People know that people can’t fly because of their illegal status. So what do they do? They take trains or Greyhound buses. This is known, especially to ICE and CBP,” said Tammy Fox-Isicoff, a prominent South Florida immigration attorney who is on the board of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Under immigration law, agents have the authority to search vehicles without a warrant “within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States,” which the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) explains as within 100 miles of any land or water border, north or south. 

“While most Border Patrol work is conducted in the immediate border area, agents have broad law enforcement authority and are not limited to a specific geography within the United States,” CBP, which is responsible for securing the borders of the United States, said in a statement. “They have the authority to question individuals, make arrests, and take and consider evidence.”

According to Miami Herald, when CBP encounters someone without proof of legal status — such as a green card or visa paperwork, as required by federal law — the person is immediately detained and temporarily held in CBP custody before being transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Enforcement Removal Operations.

“If I were a tourist, I would stay the hell out of the United States, especially Florida,” Fox-Isicoff said. “I mean, who takes a passport to the beach? And forget tourists. Who walks around with their documents? Nobody. But unfortunately, you have to.”

Greyhound, the nation’s largest bus company has, meanwhile, told the Miami Herald that “CBP searches have negatively impacted both our customers and our operations.”

“As a regulated carrier, Greyhound is required to comply with the requests of federal agents; however, we understand the importance of our customers being informed about potential checks. Because of this, we provide bilingual Know Your Rights information in our terminals and online as well,” Greyhound said.

The American Civil Liberties Union has, however, called on the company to stop allowing immigration agents from boarding its buses.

In a recent letter to the company, ACLU leaders said that by allowing Border Patrol to board its buses, Greyhound is aligning itself “with the Trump administration’s inhumane policies.”

“It also exposes your passengers to frequent violations of their constitutional rights to be free of harassment, warrantless searches and seizures, and racial profiling,” the letter said.

These transportation checks come on the back of the recent fast-track deportation process from the Trump administration.

Last month, it was announced that any migrant who cannot prove that they have been in the United States continuously for more than two years will be immediately deported without a hearing before a judge.

The fast-track deportation is the second major policy shift on immigration from the U.S. President Donald Trump in the last eight days. Until now, only people detained within 100 miles of the border who had been in the U.S. for less than two weeks could be deported quickly.

Migrants who were found elsewhere, or had been in the country for more than two weeks, would have to be processed through the courts and would be entitled to legal representation, said a BBC report.

Per the new rules, however, people can be deported irrespective of where in the country they are when they are detained, without a judge’s approval.
In other words, migrants stopped by federal agents anywhere in the country who cannot prove that they have been in the country for more than two years can be deported without a hearing.

In recent months, there has been a political crisis over how to deal with migrants attempting to reach the U.S. The UN Missing Migrants project reports that 170 migrants, including 13 children, have died or are missing on the US-Mexico border so far in 2019. Border Patrol figures show that 283 died last year.

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