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State sues Greyhound for allowing warrantless ‘sweeps’ at Intermodal Center

UPDATED: Tue., April 14, 2020

A worker, right, speaks with a Customs and Border Protection agent seeking to board a Greyhound bus headed for Portland, Ore., at the Spokane Intermodal Center on Feb. 13, 2020. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has sued the bus line over how it checks passengers’ immigration status at the facility. (Nicholas K. Geranios / AP)
A worker, right, speaks with a Customs and Border Protection agent seeking to board a Greyhound bus headed for Portland, Ore., at the Spokane Intermodal Center on Feb. 13, 2020. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has sued the bus line over how it checks passengers’ immigration status at the facility. (Nicholas K. Geranios / AP)

By allowing warrantless “immigration sweeps” at Spokane’s Intermodal Center, Greyhound is violating state laws that protect consumers and prevent discrimination, a lawsuit filed Tuesday contends.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the lawsuit charging Greyhound with unfair and deceptive trade practices by not informing customers it was allowing the sweeps at the Spokane station.

Greyhound did not immediately respond to a request for a comment on the lawsuit, which was filed in Spokane County Superior Court.

For years, the lawsuit charges, Greyhound maintained it had no choice but to allow the warrantless searches, in which armed agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection board the bus and question passengers about their citizenship status. The agents have that right within 100 miles of the border, the company said.

But that’s not true, the lawsuit says – and Customs and Border Protection’s training manual confirms. Agents can only conduct such sweeps at a designated location where all traffic is stopped and checked. To conduct the searches at the bus station, it needed Greyhound’s permission.

“Greyhound made a variety of public statements that misrepresented what was happening at the Intermodal Center (and elsewhere across the country), misstated Greyhound’s legal obligations and failed to take action to protect its customers,” the state’s lawsuit contends.

At one point, the company said it had no choice but to allow officers to board a bus when they ask permission. Greyhound later said officers don’t ask permission to board.

During that time, Greyhound contacted the agency, saying it was committed to supporting the inspections but felt it had been “abandoned” by the agency and needed help dealing with the ACLU, the lawsuit contends.

Before December 2018, the bus line did not fully inform potential customers they could be subjected to the sweeps, which could result in delays or seizures by agents it was allowing to conduct sweeps, or did not fully warn them that sweeps could be conducted at the center, the lawsuit contends.

After that date, the bus line added a page to its website about customers’ “rights and rules on board” that address the subject of immigration enforcement sweeps, but accessing that information required navigating through two pages and clicking on the ninth entry on the second page.

The rights and rules page misrepresents the role Greyhound played in allowing the sweeps to occur, the lawsuit contends. The bus line still doesn’t warn customers that sweeps may occur on its buses.

“Greyhound passengers continue to be subject to surprise immigration enforcement sweeps at the Intermodal Center,” the lawsuit contends. “They also continue to be questioned and some continue to be detained and/or arrested – even those with legal immigration status.”

People who witnessed sweeps reported that, in some cases, only ethnic minorities or persons of color were questioned by agents. Other times all passengers were questioned, but white passengers were treated much differently than minorities.

The lawsuit mentions the case of Mohanad Elshieky, who was taken off a bus in Spokane in January 2019 and accused of being in the country illegally, even though he had been granted asylum. Elshieky has filed a separate suit against Customs and Border Protection.

The attorney general’s office sent Greyhound a letter in February 2019 asking the company to change its practices but it has not, the lawsuit says.

This February, after the Associated Press reported on an agency memo that said its officers can only conduct warrantless sweeps on buses with the operator’s consent, Greyhound said it would change its practices. But the company’s website still says it has no choice but to allow immigration officials on its buses and doesn’t provide adequate warnings when a customer buys a ticket, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit alleges five counts of violating the state’s Consumer Protection Act and one count of violating the state Law Against Discrimination.

It asks for a court order to make Greyhound stop those practices and penalties of as much as $2,000 for each count involving consumer protection.

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