This Holiday Season, Immigrants Watch Out for Racial Profiling On Greyhound Buses

By Julianne Hing Dec 22, 2009

Last Thursday, a coalition of groups led by the Immigrant Raids Rapid Response Network, formally threatened to organize a boycott Greyhound buses because Border Patrol agents have taken up residence at many bus stations to check travelers’ immigration status. Contra Costa Times reports:

"If companies like Greyhound don’t take measures to protect their passengers, they will lose the trust and business one of one of their most faithful customer bases: the Latino community," said Emilio Amaya, executive director of the San Bernardino Community Service Center, which provides legal help to immigrants. Greyhound issued a statement responding to the group’s concerns. "Greyhound only recently became aware of these practices," said Maureen Richmond, spokeswoman for Dallas, Texas-based Greyhound Lines, Inc. "We plan on reaching out to (immigration) officials for further information. Greyhound seeks to balance the lawful and reasonable activities of law enforcement with the dignity and privacy of our valued customers."

Yeah right, Maureen. Border Patrol’s partnership with Greyhound bus has been well-documented, from Tampa, Florida, to San Bernardino, California and Twin Falls, Idaho. Back in 2008 ColorLines reported on New York Border Patrol’s detainment of folks who were caught speaking a language other than English, or had the misfortune of looking like they might be immigrants. Reporters Caroline Kim and Jenna Loyd wrote:

Agents check for citizenship in the bus and train station—often waiting at the Greyhound ticket counter, or watching people as they disembark for food—and onboard buses and trains already filled with passengers. People who have witnessed or been subject to Border Patrol agents questioning describe two practices: agents explicitly target a group of people or ask everyone on board about their citizenship status. According to reports from the Detainment Task Force, a Northern New York group, people routinely singled out for questioning include those who appear to be Mexican, Central American, South Asian, Asian, Afro-Caribbean, or Middle Eastern. Border Patrol officials deny that the agency racially profiles, insisting that they look for suspicious behaviors and, “question people with blond hair and blue eyes as much as anyone else.” But common understandings of race in the U.S. fuse nationality and ethnicity so that some groups are permanently deemed to be “foreign.” Racial profiling is never just an inconvenience; it systematically diminishes the civil rights and protections for entire groups of people. It is done to the Black community and the practice has now been extended to anyone who looks to be an immigrant. While most people of color are targeted, those who are most vulnerable are people whose visas have expired and unauthorized migrants for whom boarding a Greyhound bus becomes a ticket to jail.

The only question then is what’s left for immigrants who need to move and travel within and out of the country? Immigrants are running out of options for safe and uninterrupted travel. People who are undocumented can’t fly on planes without government-issued IDs, people who drive (if they can get licenses) risk being pulled over by cops for minor infractions that can potentially lead to their detainment and deportation. And buses, which remain one of the last affordable options for long-distance travel, are increasingly dangerous for immigrants–or anyone who looks like they might be one.