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Just before Spokane trial set to start, Greyhound agrees to pay $2.2 million to end warrantless immigration sweeps

UPDATED: Mon., Sept. 27, 2021

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, a terminal for buses and Amtrak in Spokane on Feb. 13, 2020. Greyhound has agreed to pay $2.2 million for allowing immigration and border agents on its buses without a warrant or probable cause.  (Nicholas K. Geranios)
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, a terminal for buses and Amtrak in Spokane on Feb. 13, 2020. Greyhound has agreed to pay $2.2 million for allowing immigration and border agents on its buses without a warrant or probable cause. (Nicholas K. Geranios)

OLYMPIA – Greyhound Lines Inc. will pay $2.2 million to end a lawsuit over its practice of allowing warrantless immigration sweeps from U.S. Customs and Border Protections agents on its buses in Washington.

The bus line failed to warn its customers of the sweeps, misrepresented its role in allowing them to occur and subjected passengers of color to invasive questioning, according to state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who brought on the suit.

Along with the $2.2 million, the bus line will be required to enact reforms to stop the sweeps, such as create a clear policy denying Customs and Border Protections agents on its buses without warrants or reasonable suspicion.

“Greyhound has an obligation to its customers – an obligation it cannot set aside so immigration agents can go on fishing expeditions aboard its buses,” Ferguson said in a statement.

The settlement was filed Monday, the day it was set to go to trial in Spokane County Superior Court.

Ferguson said the $2.2 million would be used to provide restitution to passengers who were detained, arrested or deported after immigration agents boarded a bus at the Spokane Intermodal Center. The amount of individual restitution would depend on the claims and severity of harms, according to Ferguson’s office.

From 2013 -18, nearly 200 people were apprehended at the downtown bus depot, according to previous reporting from The Spokesman -Review.

In January 2019, a Portland comedian was traveling on a Greyhound bus back home from a gig in Pullman when he said immigration agents forced him off the bus and falsely accused him of being in the country illegally. The comedian, Mohanad Elshieky, tweeted about his experience, bringing national attention to the issue in Spokane.

Ferguson’s lawsuit was filed in April 2020 and alleged the national bus company allowed sweeps on its buses since at least 2013.

Greyhound has acknowledged the sweeps since 2018 but claimed it did not have the right to deny the searches. In 2020, a leaked memo confirmed agents can’t board private buses without the consent of the bus company, prompting Greyhound to stop allowing the searches.

The sweeps led to invasive questioning by armed federal agents for passengers of color, who were often forced off the bus, detained, arrested or had their luggage searched, according to the lawsuit.

Lili Navarrete, director of public affairs for Raíz of Planned Parenthood for Greater Washington and North Idaho, has been working to stop the immigration sweeps on Greyhound buses since 2018.

Not only were local community members being detained, Navarrete said, but people coming to Raíz for services would be late or miss appointments because they were too scared to ride the bus.

Navarrete and other community members organized meetings and a protest in Spokane, which eventually led to the Spokane City Council passing an ordinance to restrict Border Patrol’s ability to search buses without written permission.

“We said, ‘That’s enough,’ ” Navarrete said.

The news of Monday’s settlement was “a huge win for Spokane,” especially as Spokane organizations worked together to get it done, she said.

“All these years fighting, the stress, the discrimination that we’re still going through,” Navarrete said. “This is an accomplishment that shows we can do it.”

In a brief statement, Greyhound said it was pleased to reach an agreement with Washington.

“By agreeing to the consent decree, we will more extensively communicate to our customers the policies and procedures we already have in place to serve the citizens of Washington state,” the statement read.

According to the settlement, Greyhound also will be required to issue a public statement in English and Spanish, place stickers on its buses and provide its drivers with placards that say it does not consent to immigration agents boarding their buses without warrants or reasonable suspicion.

It must also create a complaint procedure for passengers who want to complain about the presence of immigration agents on their buses and prove semiannual reports to the attorney general’s office on whether immigration agents have boarded buses in Washington.

Despite the win Monday, Navarrete said they are not done.

Local organizations will continue to fix things that are unjust for immigrants in Spokane and beyond.

“We will keep fighting for their rights,” she said. “They are community members, wherever they live, regardless of immigration status.”

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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