SPOKANE, Wash. – Greyhound Lines Inc. will pay $2.2 million to settle a lawsuit over the bus line’s practice of allowing U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to board its buses in Washington state to conduct warrantless immigration sweeps, the state attorney general said Monday.
The bus company failed to warn customers of the sweeps, misrepresented its role in allowing the sweeps to occur and subjected its passengers to discrimination based on skin color or national origin, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said.
The money will provide restitution to passengers who were detained, arrested or deported after immigration agents boarded buses at the Spokane Intermodal Center. The amount each person receives will depend on the number of claims and the severity of harm suffered because of Greyhound’s conduct, Ferguson said.
“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 press release.
Dallas-based Greyhound issued a brief statement, saying it was pleased with the settlement.
“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 bus company said.
The settlement was filed in Spokane County Superior Court on Monday, the day a trial was set to begin.
“My office first insisted that Greyhound make these corporate reforms in 2019,” Ferguson said. “If Greyhound had simply accepted our reasonable demand, they would have avoided a lawsuit."
Under the settlement, Greyhound also is required to:
— Create a corporate policy that denies immigration agents permission to board its buses in Washington state without warrants or reasonable suspicion.
— Issue a public statement, in English and Spanish, clarifying that Greyhound does not consent to immigration agents boarding its buses without a warrant or reasonable suspicion.
— Place stickers on or near the front door of its buses stating that it does not consent to immigration agents boarding its buses without a warrant or reasonable suspicion.
The lawsuit was filed last year, alleging that Greyhound allowed the sweeps aboard its buses since at least 2013. The company publicly acknowledged the practice in 2018.
During the sweeps, Hispanic people and other passengers of color were subjected to invasive questioning by armed federal agents and were often required to get off the bus, Ferguson said. Immigration agents sometimes detained or arrested passengers, he said.
For years, Greyhound contended it was legally required to allow Border Patrol agents to board its buses. But a memo last year from then-U.S. Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost confirmed Ferguson’s contention that agents can only perform warrantless immigration sweeps aboard buses with the consent of the company’s owner or employees.
In late April, a Libyan-born comedian received a $35,000 settlement from the federal government after he filed a lawsuit contending Border Patrol agents in Spokane in 2019 wrongfully detained and interrogated him about his immigration status.
Mohanad Elshieky was traveling from a gig in Pullman, Washington, to Portland, Oregon, when he was briefly detained in Spokane. He had been granted asylum and was legally living in the United States.
According to the Northwest Immigration Rights Project, which represented Elshieky, federal agents boarded the bus and walked around before they asked Elshieky and a few others to step off the bus. They interrogated Elshieky for about 20 minutes, calling his papers fake and him illegal but eventually let him go.
Andres Sosa Segura, who sued separately over a similar experience at the Spokane Intermodal Center in 2017, also will be awarded $35,000, the advocacy group said.
“The hours I spent detained for no reason were terrifying, and all I wanted was to be with my family,” Sosa Segura said in an April news release from the group announcing the settlements. “I hope that this case sends a message that CBP agents need to respect the rights of people like me.”