SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The state of Washington sued Greyhound Lines Inc. for letting U.S. immigration agents board buses in Spokane, Washington, in search of people who are in the U.S. illegally.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the lawsuit Monday in Spokane County Superior Court. It seeks to stop the company from allowing U.S. Customs & Border Protection agents to board its buses and conduct immigration sweeps.
ACLU chapters in 10 states — California, Washington, Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, Michigan, Florida, Maine, Texas and Arizona — wrote to Greyhound in 2018 to express their concern with passengers being pulled off buses and arrested. In several cases, they said, it appeared passengers had been singled out and questioned based on having dark skin or foreign accents.
The lawsuit in Washington state contends Greyhound’s practices violate the state Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination.
Greyhound wrongly suggests on its website that the company has no choice but to allow the practices, Ferguson said.
‘”Greyhound must reform its practices, and warn customers of the risk they face of being interrogated by immigration agents without cause,” Ferguson said Tuesday. “Greyhound’s customers have suffered for far too long because of the company’s indifference. “
The lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting the checks and penalties to hold the company accountable for its past conduct.
Greyhound said Tuesday it had told the federal government that the company does not consent to the search of its buses. It said the Spokane bus terminal is operated by the city, and Greyhound does not have control over it.
Greyhound also blamed the coronavirus pandemic for the delay of some of the company’s corrective actions. It said it had informed the state by letter about actions it had taken in early March but received no response.
“Greyhound is disappointed that the state of Washington would use public resources to sue Greyhound in the midst of a global pandemic as requests were voluntarily implemented by Greyhound and communicated to the state,” the company said.
Greyhound buses departing from Spokane, located less than 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Canada, run east and west and do not cross the Canadian border.
Ferguson contended the sweeps focus on passengers of color who, regardless of their immigration status, are questioned at length and often required to get off the bus.
For instance, Portland, Oregon, resident Mohanad Elshieky was removed from a Greyhound bus in Spokane in early 2019, 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, a comedian who fled Libya’s civil war, was granted asylum in the United States and is in the process of applying for permanent residency. His attorneys have sued the government for false arrest.
Ferguson’s office began urging Greyhound to change its practice a year ago. But the company failed to provide adequate notice to its customers of the possibility of immigration sweeps on its buses, Ferguson said.
The lawsuit also says Greyhound refused to implement a corporate policy that it would deny CBP agents permission to board its buses without warrants or reasonable suspicion. It also refused to provide training to its drivers and agents on the same topic, Ferguson said.
Arrests at the bus depot in Spokane rose from 35 in 2017 to 84 last year, according to data obtained by the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights.