Editorial: ‘Clarity’ on Border Patrol bus searches

  • In this Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020 photo, agents for Customs and Border Protection board a Greyhound bus headed for Portland, Ore., at the Spokane Intermodal Center, a terminal for buses and Amtrak in Spokane, Wash. A Customs and Border Protection memo obtained by The Associated Press confirms that bus companies such as Greyhound do not have to allow Border Patrol agents on board to conduct routine checks for illegal immigrants, contrary to Greyhound's long insistence that it has no choice but to let the agents on board. (AP Photo/Nicholas K. Geranios) Nicholas K. Geranios

Published: 2/25/2020 10:20:17 PM
Modified: 2/25/2020 10:20:10 PM

Now that U.S. Customs and Border Protection has “clarified” that Border Patrol agents are prohibited from boarding buses and performing immigration checks without a warrant or company consent, the operator of Dartmouth Coach should quickly join Greyhound in declaring that it will no longer allow these egregious violations of the Fourth Amendment.

Greyhound, which has denounced the practice for years, acted last Friday in the wake of disclosure by The Associated Press of an internal memo dated Jan. 28 from the outgoing Border Patrol chief, Carla Provost, that stated plainly what critics have long argued. “When transportation checks occur on a bus at non-checkpoint locations, the agent must demonstrate that he or she gained access to the bus with the consent of the company’s owner or one of the company’s employees,” she wrote.

Up until that point, Greyhound was apparently under the impression that it had no choice in the matter under federal law. Whether Provost’s memo represented a change in policy or merely clarified an existing policy is unclear, but the company moved swiftly to rectify a situation that it has described as bad for its customers and bad for its business. It said it would send a letter to the Department of Homeland Security “formally stating we do not consent to warrantless searches on our buses and in terminal areas that are not open to the general public,” and that it would place stickers to that effect on its buses.

In light of that, Concord Coach Lines, which is headquartered in Concord and operates Dartmouth Coach and Concord Coach, says it will review its longstanding policy of permitting the immigration checks without a warrant. But we fear management may be missing the point. “The circumstances regarding law enforcement and bus passenger travel as compared with other means of travel have not changed,” the company’s vice president, Benjamin Blunt, told the Concord Monitor. “Because many of our passengers are coming from or connecting to Greyhound buses, however, we’re concerned that conflicting policies are potentially problematic for customers.”

It seems plain, however, that the circumstances regarding law enforcement have changed entirely with the admission by CBP that its agents do not have authority to board buses without a warrant or permission. And a conflict of policies is not the problem. What’s problematic is a private business enabling routine violation of constitutional prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Blunt earlier told the Monitor that “our drivers should not play the role of a judge in determining probable cause regarding law enforcement actions.” There is a simple remedy to that legitimate concern: Bar the immigration checks unless Border Patrol agents can produce an actual warrant issued by a judge after a finding of probable cause. That removes all discretion from the drivers.

In should also be noted that critics have accused Border Patrol agents of racial profiling in performing immigration checks on buses, something the agency denies but which, if true, makes the practice even more objectionable.

Dartmouth Coach provides an important service in the Upper Valley and does it well. We urge its owner to take this opportunity to align its business practices with the increasing diversity and spirit of inclusiveness that are making slow, but we think steady, headway in our communities. And most of all, it should act to uphold the constitutional rights of all those who travel on its buses.

Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784


© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy