Skip to comments.Border Patrol Checks Bus Boarders Bus Riders Hit By ID Checks
Posted on 05/04/2008 3:32:46 PM PDT by devane617
TAMPA - It's barely sunrise. The shadows under the passengers' eyelids show it.
"Morning, everybody," says a man in green, Jeremy Farner, standing between them and the moment they're longing for: getting off this Greyhound bus, packed 55 bodies full.
The travel-weary eyes open wider at Farner's next words, coming as they do in the middle of downtown Tampa: "U.S. Border Patrol. This is an immigration inspection."
Those words have been oft-repeated in buses arriving at or departing from Tampa's Greyhound station at 610 Polk St. in recent years. That was particularly so last year, when Border Patrol agents arrested 262 people on those buses, primarily for immigration violations.
Still, passengers are often taken aback when a port-of-entry-like immigration check takes place on a domestic bus ride.
"That kind of surprised me," said one closely questioned passenger, Tajinder Singh. The 23-year-old native of Punjab, India, is a Port Charlotte-based truck driver. He's often subjected to immigration checks when he hauls loads that originated in Mexico. "Usually, it's at truck stops or train stations near the border."
Farner gets that a lot from bus passengers he inspects: "The biggest question is, 'What border do you patrol? I don't get it.'"
Yet in many parts of the country, on Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains, it's happening more often. Mostly, it's about a nationwide manpower increase in Border Patrol in the post-Sept. 11 era.
Ramon Rivera, a Washington-based spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, said that when he became a Border Patrol agent 20 years ago, he was one of 5,000 agents, and transportation checks were most commonly done along the U.S.-Mexico border.
"Now we're over 16,000 agents, and by the end of the year we plan to be over 18,000 agents," Rivera said. "The things that Border Patrol agents couldn't do in Tampa or at the northern border were simply because we didn't have the manpower. Now that we have more agents, we can do those things everywhere, and for people on the northern border, it's something new to them."
The inspections have become so frequent in New York that the immigrant advocacy group Families for Freedom held protests at Greyhound and Amtrak stations there last month. Their demand: that the companies advise passengers upfront that they could face an immigration inspection.
"It's amazing that they find it necessary to provide notices that their bags could be inspected but nothing to indicate that a person could be inspected," said Joanne Macri, director of the New York State Defenders Association Immigration Defense Project and a frequent witness of the checks on bus and train trips.
"What's the problem with letting them know?"
Greyhound Lines spokesman Dustin Clark said it notifies customers that their bags may be inspected as part of its internal security policy.
"When an independent law enforcement agency comes in and is doing something, that's when we're under no obligation to inform someone of that," Clark said. "We cooperate with any law enforcement agency - whether it's federal, state or local - on a number of things. There are situations when it would actually impede law enforcement's progress" to notify passengers.
Minimal ID Required
Federal law grants Border Patrol and other immigration agents the power to question noncitizens or people thought to be noncitizens about their right to be in the United States. They don't need a warrant. They do need to be "within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States" to board any boat, train, airplane, bus or other vehicle to question someone.
The Border Patrol operates in Florida because of its 2,000 miles of coastal boundaries.
Steve McDonald, agent in charge of the Tampa Border Patrol Station, said bus station checks always have been part of his office's mission due to the nearby seaports.
"There are issues occasionally with stowaways coming into the Tampa Bay area as well as absconding and deserting crewmen," McDonald said, noting his agents also sometimes question passengers coming off domestic flights. He said they rarely inspect Amtrak trains because they have more stringent ID checks than Greyhound.
"It is one way you can travel around the United States with showing minimal ID. What better way to travel around the country if you were a person who wanted to do us harm or if you're here illegally?"
The majority of arrests involve people caught in administrative violations that land them in a deportation hearing in immigration court. They came across the border illegally. They overstayed a tourist visa or a student visa.
Most are Mexicans. They make up 66 percent of the 372 arrests at the Tampa station since October 2005.
A handful faced criminal charges. Ten people were charged with crimes for returning to the United States after they were deported. Some had criminal pasts that included felonies, drug-related convictions and sex offenses, McDonald said. Two were U.S. citizens: one arrested on a violent felony warrant, one on misdemeanor drug possession.
The Border Patrol agents didn't arrest anyone from the bus that rolled into the Tampa station from Orlando at 6:55 a.m. April 23. Farner questioned everyone. Some told the Tribune they had also been questioned elsewhere: Marie Jerome, 41, of Houston, said Border Patrol agents boarded her bus the day before in Lake Charles, La.
It was quick for most, particularly citizens, whose only requirement was to tell him their birthplace.
Farner slowed at the sound of foreign birthplaces:
He asked for immigration documents from noncitizens.
He spent time with Singh, the India native, at Row 12. It turned out he was a naturalized U.S. citizen.
At Row 22, Farner also lingered with Jose Antonio Zalueta, 25. The Clearwater restaurant worker was born in Guerrero, Mexico. Farner checked Zalueta's Social Security card, which he later said he could tell was not fake. Zalueta's Florida driver's license was issued in recent years - long after 1999, when the state law went into effect making driver's licenses available only to those with ID available to legal residents. So Farner let him go.
Zalueta later told a reporter he was surprised by the check.
"I didn't have my residency card with me," he said sheepishly. "I left it at home."
Antoine Telus in Row 26 wasn't so lucky. The native of Haiti lives in Fort Myers. His only photo IDs were from the Pembina Nation Little Shell Band, an obscure Native American tribe in North Dakota. The tribal IDs in recent years have been used in a South Florida immigration scam uncovered by a Miami TV station. WTVJ's series revealed that South Florida brokers were selling the IDs to immigrants, telling them that tribal membership enabled them to live and work legally in the United States.
It wasn't true. The tribe decried the scam on its Web site.
Telus' two Pembina Nation driver's licenses won him an extended visit outside the bus with Border Patrol agents. They questioned him. They eyed a weathered immigration form. They ran a criminal history check. They checked for warrants. They checked to see when he entered the United States. They checked out his immigration form - an application for an employment visa - and found it was valid and pending.
They let him go - in time to catch his connecting bus to Fort Myers.
'Glad You're Out Here'
The Border Patrol agents - McDonald, Farner and Rob Vadasz - are all veterans who came to Tampa after working the U.S.-Mexico border in California or Arizona. For the most part, they say the people they inspect at the Tampa Greyhound station don't seem to mind much.
"In San Diego, where I worked, when people waved at you, it's not always with five fingers," Vadasz said. "Here, it's totally different. They shake your hand."
Farner agreed: "A lot of times, they'll say, 'Wow, this is the first time I've ever seen this. Glad you're out here.'"
They're not at the Greyhound station every day. With five Border Patrol agents to cover a 12-county region, often they're parked along highways, looking for smugglers' pickups or vans overloaded by the weight of illegal immigrants in back.
Or they're driving around in their marked cars in Charlotte County. They want to make their presence known to a growing group of smugglers based there, who launch boats to smuggle people from Cuba.
So when they climb into a Greyhound bus, it's often a surprise.
"That was sort of a trip," said David McDonald, 55, who, when Farner approached his seat, announced his Georgia birthplace in a gravelly, early-morning drawl. "I guess they're doing their job. National security the way it is now, hell, it shouldn't surprise me none."
He lives in Bradenton now. He's a carpenter, a profession he acknowledged has faced lean times of late. That made him think of the competition he faces from undocumented immigrants.
He grinned as he waited for his connecting bus to Bradenton: "Maybe we need more security checks."
cool. more people for tampa law enforcement to harass.
Good story, even though the title is a bit incoherent.
A friend of mine got pulled off a greyhound in New Mexico about four years ago. He is a Muslim who came here to learn to fly airplanes, and overstayed his visa.
I thught the title was odd, but I know we are nt supposed t change titles.
This was a regular occurance on Greyhounds back in the early 60’s. I used to ride them between NYC and school in northern VT and BP coming down the aisle asking where you were born was common.
There is not yet a law requiring individuals to carry identification. Therefore this action is illegal.
This happened to me back in 1979. I was a passenger on a Greyhound bus that that got pulled over on route 40 in New Mexico. Border Patrol agents boarded the bus,walked the aisle,looked everyone over,talked to the driver for a few minutes then took off.
Sounds like he needed a nice vacation at the US resort in south Cuba.
Exactly. I checked the source link and that’s how they did it, so you did right.
So, you’re saying the Border Patrol is breaking the law?
How so? I didn’t read that anyone was arrested for not carrying identification.
As a foreign resident of Japan, I was required to carry a registration card with a fingerprint and produce it when requested by any authority such as police or even to open a bank account. My residence permit did allow me to stand in either the Japanese or foreigner immigration line when re-entering the country. Thanks to sensible profiling, you could still get to the airport 20 minutes before a domestic flight and still get on board. The Japanese made a clear distinction between legal aliens (like me) and illegal aliens. Personally, I was glad they did.
“Sounds like he needed a nice vacation at the US resort in south Cuba.”
He told me that the authorities informed him that because of his country of origin [he’s not Arab], he was not a person of interest.
In January of 2007 I was on a Amtrak from Albany, New York going to Chicago. We were supposed to stop in Rochester long enough for the smokers to get off and smoke one. Just before the train stopped they anounced that no one could get off except departing passengers. When we stopped I noticed two white Expeditions parked beside the station with Homeland Security decals on them. Several men came into the car I was on and started asking where we were born and they would ask who owned certain pieces of luggage in the overhead racks. They spent about 20 minutes in our car and removed 4 hispanic looking dudes. As the agents were taking them off almost everyone applauded the agents and several people near the front of the car thanked them for doing a good job. I appreciated what they were doing too but I sure was pis*ed about missing my cigarette.
Papers. Yer papers please.
If the BP or DHLS interfered with my cigar, I would be very upset.
Years ago I was on a bus in the southwest, when a BP agent entered it to look for papers.
In the back of the bus there was an excited German. This was the first time in being in the US in a month that *anyone* had asked to see his papers. He was thrilled. The BP agent wasn’t. Total lack of interest in Anglos. However, he agreed to look at the German’s papers just to settle him down.
A Mexican family knew the drill and all had theirs up in easy view. That took a few seconds.
Then, in Spanish, the BP agent asked a Vietnamese family to show their papers. They looked at him, puzzled. So he asked them again, louder, still in Spanish.
Finally, the Mexican father looked over at the Vietnamese man and said, “He wants to see your papers”. To which the Vietnamese man replied, “Okay, just a sec”, while digging them out. Turned out he was a math teacher at a local community college. Didn’t speak a word of Spanish, though.
Whole family had been born in the US.