Greyhound Lines, the nation's largest intercity bus company, will stop letting immigration agents conduct warrantless sweeps of its buses and stations and pay $2.2 million in legal fees and restitution under a lawsuit settlement with the state of Washington.
The bus operator had already announced it would stop allowing the sweeps nationwide in February 2020 amid mounting public pressure. The new settlement requires the company to take specific steps and document its efforts to do so in Washington, as well as cover the state's legal fees and pay restitution to passengers who were detained, arrested, or deported after immigration agents boarded their bus.
Reports of immigration sweeps on buses by Border Patrol agents around the country increased under the Trump administration, after Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees the Border Patrol, reversed an Obama-era decision to restrict approval for those operations.
The bulk of the sweeps occurred near the northern border, advocates and a spokesperson for Greyhound told NBC News in 2019. In Washington state, those searches were concentrated at the bus station in Spokane, the largest city on the eastern side of the state.
Under immigration law, agents can search vehicles without a warrant "within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States," which CBP interprets as within 100 miles of any international border. That massive zone encompasses more than half of the U.S. population, including New England and Florida and most of New York state.
‘Are you a U.S. citizen?’: Watch border agent question bus ridersJune 4, 201901:31
Bus checks have resulted in the apprehension of people in the country illegally. But agents have also questioned citizens, green card holders and DACA recipients — in some cases detaining legal immigrants. The searches led to a wave of lawsuits against the Border Patrol from civil rights and advocacy groups. In Washington, the state attorney general also sued Greyhound, arguing the company did not have to allow officers on its property, and endangered customers' liberty by doing so.
The suit was filed after Greyhound had already pledged to make changes, but Washington said that "despite public statements ... Greyhound has still not updated its public-facing policies."
"My office first insisted that Greyhound make these corporate reforms in 2019," Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in announcing the settlement Monday. "If Greyhound had simply accepted our reasonable demand, they would have avoided a lawsuit. ... Greyhound has an obligation to its customers — an obligation it cannot set aside so immigration agents can go on fishing expeditions aboard its buses."
A few months before Ferguson filed suit in 2020, the Associated Press obtained a CBP memo stating that bus companies do not have to allow agents on buses to conduct routine checks for immigrants in the country illegally. That was contrary to Greyhound's public stance that it had no choice but to do so. The bus carrier announced it would no longer allow the searches days after the memo was reported.
"Greyhound is pleased to reach an agreement with the State of Washington," the company said Monday. "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."
Friday's settlement — filed one business day before trial was set to begin — requires the bus company to create and publicly display a policy not allowing immigration agents to board its buses in Washington without a warrant or reasonable suspicion, to train bus operators on the policy, and to report to the attorney general's office how often immigration agents are boarding its buses in the state.
CBP and the Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the settlement.