PORTLAND, Maine — Concord Coach Lines is considering changing policy that allows Border Patrol agents to perform routine immigration checks on its buses following over a year of controversy.
The move comes after national bus giant Greyhound announced last week it would prevent agents from conducting checks of its passengers without warrants following the release of an internal Customs and Border Protection memo.
That leaked memo said agents must demonstrate that they gained access to the bus with the consent of both the company's owner and an employee.
The New Hampshire-based company released this statement:
“The circumstances regarding law enforcement and bus passenger travel as compared with other means of travel have not changed. Because many of our passengers are coming from or connecting to Greyhound buses, however, we’re concerned that conflicting policies are potentially problematic for customers. We’re going to be consulting with our national association and with legal counsel. Our foremost concern remains the safety of our passengers.”- Benjamin Blunt - Vice President, Concord Coach Lines
Concord Coach Lines has been the target of immigrant rights advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union in Maine for more than a year.
The company has defended its stance in the past saying it improved efforts to educate passengers of their rights.
"It wasn't until an internal government memo confirmed that bus companies have authority to refuse consent that Greyhound has gotten on the right side of the issue," Emma Bond, an attorney with ACLU Maine said. "Now we're calling on Concord to protect its passengers and make the same choice."
The ACLU has been pushing Greyhound and Concord Coach Lines to act for months, sending letters and publicizing controversial cell phone videos showing agents questioning passengers.
"They're targeting people who don't speak English or who speak with an accent. That racial profiling is completely unacceptable in our society," Bond said.
U.S. Border Patrol officials in Maine said they have been conducting routine transportation checks across the state for decades.
This development could limit their ability to continue to do that.
"We'll respect [the bus company's] ability to create policy on their end and we'll work with them as we go forward," M Todd Smith, Acting Division Chief of U.S. Border Patrol Houlton Sector told NEWS CENTER Maine.
Officials denied any racial profiling.
Bond said many in Maine's immigrant community rely on buses for transportation. In fact, many of the asylum seekers who recently arrived in Portland took Greyhound buses from other parts of the country.
"We have to fear to travel or to get out of the house out of fear of being arrested. That's not something anyone should have to live to," Damas Rugaba with the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center said.
Rugaba said in addition to taking buses to get to Maine, those individuals seeking asylum are required to commute by bus to Boston for hearings.
In the coming weeks, Concord Coach Lines executives will consult their legal teams before making a final decision.
The company declined an interview but said passenger safety is top priority.
"It is what it is and we're going to continue to do our jobs. We're going to ensure the safety of the United States," Smith said.