In Hartford, Vermont, last year, U.S. Border Patrol agents boarded a Greyhound bus as it arrived from Boston, asking passengers about their citizenship and checking the IDs of people of color or those with accents. In January, they stopped a man in Indio, California, as he was boarding a Los Angeles-bound bus. In questioning him about his immigration status, they told him his “shoes looked suspicious,” like those of someone who had recently crossed the border.
Interrogation, searches, demands for identification, and possible detainment are processes people are subjected to as they try to enter the U.S. at ports of entry as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection tries to keep borders secure. Turns out, this broad authority doesn’t end at ports of entry but extends for another 100 miles into the interior, across the entire perimeter of the country.
It’s an area some derisively refer to as the “Constitution-Free Zone.” It’s also home to two-thirds of the U.S. population.
Within this area, U.S Border Patrol, a division of Customs and Border Protection, has authority to board and search any vehicle, bus, or vessel without a warrant and can ask occupants to prove their legal status in this country: “Papers, please.”
Some 200 million people live within that 100-mile zone, which encompasses most major U.S. cities from east to west and north to south, including New York and Seattle, Detroit and Philadelphia. The zone also includes the entirety of many states, Florida, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, for example.
This wide authority, which appears to conflict with constitutional rights, is contained in a statutory change to the Immigration and Nationality Act more than 70 years ago. Regulations later established the 100-mile zone. The ACLU and other constitutional scholars have long argued that the 100-mile zone violates Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, but the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently upheld it.
The warrantless bus raids have mobilized organizations and grassroots efforts to rein them in.
In Florida, a coalition of immigrant advocacy groups in February issued aTravel Advisory warning people to “reconsider traveling to the state because of the increased likelihood of racial profiling and abuse of civil liberties.” One of those groups, the Florida Immigration Coalition, whose members shared videos that went viral of January border patrol raids, has begun an online petition asking Greyhound to stop allowing the agents onto its buses.
The videos of officers removing from a Greyhound bus a Jamaican grandmother who had been visiting her granddaughter and later of a Trinidadian man being led away in handcuffs got nearly 1 billion combined views, said Melissa Taveras, spokeswoman for FLIC, which advocated on behalf of the passengers.
Florida restricts drivers’ licenses for those in the country without legal status, leaving some people few options for getting around.
“Americans deserve to ride the bus in peace without having to carry a birth certificate or passport to travel,” the group says in its petition. “In 2018, it is outrageous that there is an Apartheid-like passbook requirement to travel within your own state.”