Border Patrol agents boarded a bus and asked for citizenship papers. Is that legal?

U.S. Border Patrol agents took someone off a Greyhound bus outside the Fort Lauderdale station after allegedly asking everyone on board for proof of citizenship, according to witness video and immigration advocates.

The Border Patrol’s Miami section confirmed Monday: Yes, that’s us, and we can do that.

The e-mail didn’t address whether or not the agents asked everyone on board for proof of citizenship, but named parts of federal law that give vast powers to Border Patrol agents.

The video triggered response among those concerned with the fate of DACA and other immigration policies, as well as people concerned about an authoritarian turn.

A passenger on the Greyhound bus took video of Friday’s incident on the Orlando-to-Miami route. It was posted Saturday to the Florida Immigration Coalition’s Twitter page.

The Border Patrol confirmed that a woman on the bus had an expired tourist visa and was arrested. The agency issued this statement about the incident:

“On (Friday), while performing an immigration inspection at a Ft. Lauderdale bus station, Border Patrol agents identified a passenger who was illegally residing in the United States. The subject was an adult female that had overstayed her tourist visa. She was arrested and transported to the Dania Beach Border Patrol station for further investigation and later turned over to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Enforcement Removal Operations (ERO) for removal proceedings.”

According to the Florida Immigration Coalition, the woman is from Jamaica and was visiting her granddaughter for the first time.

“Without an official judicial warrant, Border Patrol agents should not be permitted to board the private property of the Greyhound corporation to harass its customers and violate their civil liberties,” read a statement from Isabel Sousa-Rodriguez, membership director for the immigration advocacy group. “Floridians deserve to ride a bus in peace without having to carry a birth certificate or passport to go to Disney World, visit family, or commute for work.”

But what might appear to be a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure, has been common practice for years.

In a 2005 Miami Herald story on Luis Posada Carriles, the anti-Castro militant tells how he acted like a befuddled old man to fool agents doing a spot check on a Greyhound bus.

“U.S. Border Patrol officers periodically board interstate buses and trains to check the immigration papers of foreign nationals,” according to the article.

Greyhound issued a statement confirming, “We are required to comply with all local, state and federal laws and cooperate with the relevant enforcement agencies if they ask to board our buses or enter stations. Unfortunately, even routine transportation checks negatively impact our operations and some customers directly.

“We encourage anyone with concerns about what happened to reach out directly to these agencies. Greyhound will also reach out to the agencies to see if there is anything we can do on our end to minimize any negative effect of this process.”

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

What the law says

Section 1357 of Title 8 of the United States Code, the part covering powers of immigration officers and employees, says they can without warrant:

1. interrogate any alien or person believed to be an alien as to his right to be or to remain in the United States;

2. arrest any alien who in his presence or view is entering or attempting to enter the United States in violation of any law or regulation made in pursuance of law regulating the admission, exclusion, expulsion, or removal of aliens, or to arrest any alien in the United States, if he has reason to believe that the alien so arrested is in the United States in violation of any such law or regulation and is likely to escape before a warrant can be obtained for his arrest, but the alien arrested shall be taken without unnecessary delay for examination before an officer of the Service having authority to examine aliens as to their right to enter or remain in the United States;

3. within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States, to board and search for aliens any vessel within the territorial waters of the United States and any railway car, aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle, and within a distance of twenty-five miles from any such external boundary to have access to private lands, but not dwellings, for the purpose of patrolling the border to prevent the illegal entry of aliens into the United States.

The Immigration and Nationality Act 287(a)(3) and CFR 287 (a)(3) similarly state that Immigration Officers, without a warrant, may “within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States...board and search for aliens in any vessel within the territorial waters of the United States and any railcar, aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle.”

“Reasonable distance” is defined by 8 CFR 287 (a)(1) as 100 air miles from the border.

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