FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A woman who was escorted off a Greyhound bus in Fort Lauderdale last week by federal agents was residing in the U.S. illegally, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman said Tuesday in an email.
CBP spokesman Jim Burns said agents were performing an immigration inspection Friday at a Fort Lauderdale bus station when agents identified the passenger who had overstayed her tourist visa.
Burns said the woman was arrested and taken to the Dania Beach Border Patrol station before being turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"Border Patrol agents routinely conduct law enforcement activities at transportation hubs as part of a layered approach to preventing illegal aliens from traveling further into the United States," Burns said. "These operations are conducted at strategic locations that serve as conduits for human and narcotic smuggling, disrupting criminal organizations from further exploiting this mode of transportation."
Immigration activists told Local 10 News that they are looking into whether the woman, who is from Jamaica, was racially profiled.
"Why was she singled out? Why did they approach her? So now ... we are looking at racial profiling," said Melissa Taveras, of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. "In light of the facts, what else would you assume?"
Another woman from the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Isabel Sousa, said the woman complied with answering questions asked by the agents.
"Lawyers from Americans for Immigrant Justice are meeting with her so she understands her options and to explore if she can get a hearing with a judge for an alternative to detention," Sousa said.
According to Sousa, the woman came to the U.S. to visit her granddaughter for the first time, whom she met last week.
Sousa said the woman was traveling back to Miami, where she has been staying with a friend when she was arrested.
"My mother-in-law came to visit me last week. She's my daughter's grandmother and this was the first time meeting each other," the woman's daughter-in-law said in a statement. "I dropped her off at the Greyhound bus stop Friday morning and never got word of her arrival. I'm very concerned about these officers questioning her without a lawyer present."
The Florida Immigrant Coalition is working with the American Civil Liberties Union, who are speaking with bus passengers about possible civil liberties violations against the U.S. citizens that were aboard the Greyhound bus, Sousa said.
"People felt afraid. She said that she felt afraid," Taveras said.
Immigration activists said the woman who captured the incident on cellphone video said that the bus driver lied to passengers, telling them that "security was coming on the bus for a routine inspection."
Activists said some of the other passengers on the bus from Orlando to Miami did not have documents with them to prove their citizenship because they were not crossing any federal borders.
Federal law allows authorities to stop and search any vehicle, railcar or aircraft that is "within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the U.S." without a warrant if agents believe a person is aboard who is not permitted to stay in the U.S. The law also allows authorities to search for people who are in the country illegally aboard vessels within the territorial waters of the U.S.
The law defines reasonable distance as "100 air miles from the border."