Concord Coach Lines won’t block Border Patrol searches of buses, although federal memo says it has that right

  • Two Concord Coach buses get ready to board passengers at the station on Stickney Avenue in Concord on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER

  • A Concord Coach Lines bus loads up at the station on Stickney Ave. on Thursday, February 20, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • A display near the ticket counter of the Concord Bus station off of Stickney Ave. explains the rights people have if they come in contact with a Custom and Border Protection officer. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 2/20/2020 1:09:49 PM

Concord Coach Lines will not change its policy of allowing Border Patrol agents to board its buses to conduct routine immigration checks, although an Associated Press report has found that bus companies have the legal right to block such searches without a warrant.

“Some degree of police presence is a matter of public safety, and our drivers should not play the role of a judge in determining probable cause regarding law enforcement actions,” wrote Benjamin Blunt, vice president of Concord Coach Lines, in an email response to a Monitor query.

The issue has long been a thorny one for inter-city bus companies like Concord Coach, which has long argued with the American Civil Liberties Union and other critics who say they have a choice concerning Border Patrol sweeps of their buses and waiting rooms.

A Customs and Border Protection memo obtained by the Associated Press seems to support the ACLU’s position. The memo was dated Jan. 28, addressed to all chief patrol agents and signed by then-Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost just before she retired.

“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,” the memo states.

The memo also reiterates that people are not required to respond to the Border Agent’s questions, saying that an agent’s actions while on the bus “would not cause a reasonable person to believe that he or she is unable to terminate the encounter with the agent.”

Concord Coach Lines provides bus routes throughout New Hampshire and Maine via Concord Coach, Dartmouth Coach and Boston Express services, including connections to Boston and New York City.

“Like every public transportation provider in the country, Concord Coach Lines buses and terminals are inspected by a variety of law enforcement agencies, including TSA, FBI Counterterrorism, DEA, State and Local Police, as well as U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Because we believe it is important that our passengers understand the law, and their rights in these situations, we have posted notices at all of our ticket counters that describe both. This information is also available on wallet cards and on our website,” Blunt wrote in his email.

“Airline travel requires proof of identity as well as body and luggage scans, riding our buses does not. Some degree of police presence is a matter of public safety, and our drivers should not play the role of a judge in determining probable cause regarding law enforcement actions,” Blunt said.

SangYeob Kim, immigration staff attorney at the ACLU of New Hampshire, urged the bus company to reconsider.

“Concord Coach should do the right thing and protect their bus passengers from warrantless searches by the government,” Kim said in a statement Thursday. Customs and Border Patrol “has made clear that bus companies can refuse consent and disallow CBP agents to board, and Concord Coach should make this clear in their policy moving forward.”

In 2018, ACLU chapters in 10 states, including New Hampshire, wrote to the nation’s largest bus line, Greyhound, expressing concern about 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 Border Patrol denies that, saying all passengers are questioned.

Under then-President Barack Obama, Customs and Border Protection in late 2011 began cutting back on so-called “transportation checks,” especially along the U.S.-Canada border, amid criticism that it amounted to racial profiling. The agency told agents to keep away from bus and train stations entirely unless they had “actionable intelligence” about someone who had recently entered the country illegally. It also said such operations had to be cleared with Border Patrol headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The Trump administration returned authority to the chief agents in each Border Patrol sector to approve the operations, and they have been on the rise, according to the AP.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)


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