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Why Is Border Patrol Stopping Greyhound Buses in Pennsylvania?

Customs and Border Protection searches of buses have increased—even far from the border.
Asylum seekers stand at the Greyhound bus station in downtown El Paso, Texas, late on December 23rd, 2018.

Asylum seekers stand at the Greyhound bus station in downtown El Paso, Texas, late on December 23rd, 2018.

According to NBC News, some Greyhound passengers grew angry in April when Border Patrol agents stopped their bus, boarded, and asked Latinx passengers about their citizenship status—in Pennsylvania.

Border Patrol's jurisdiction might seem straightforward: The United States has two borders, and Border Patrol patrols them both. But for Customs and Border Protection agents, the border means something quite different than a line between the United States and Mexico and Canada. According to U.S. law, the "border zone" is a 100-mile swath of area that stretches inwards from Mexico, Canada, and every coast.

That means Border Patrol can perform traffic stops and searches (on both private vehicles and Greyhound buses) not just in El Paso, but also in cities like Philadelphia, Portland, and Chicago. As Pacific Standard reported in April, Border Patrol and CBP agents have full jurisdiction in the border zone—an area inhabited by the majority of Americans:

More than two-thirds of Americans—about 200 million people—live in the border zone. Every inch of Michigan, Florida, Hawaii, and Maine lies within it. This means CBP agents can run operations, pursue people of interest, and put up checkpoints in neighborhoods where the majority of Americans live. It also means most Americans could plausibly be stopped by Border Patrol agents when they go out to get groceries or pick up their kids from school (though agents must establish "reasonable suspicion" before pulling someone over).

As NBC reports, Border Patrol searches of Greyhounds and other buses in the border zone have increased significantly in recent months.

According to documents the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine provided to NBC, a Border Patrol agent in Maine told agents in November of 2017 to prepare to search buses, and wished them "Happy hunting!"

The expansive border zone is not without its critics: As part of his compressive plan to reform the country's immigration system, Democratic presidential candidate and former cabinet secretary Julián Castro has proposed changing the way Border Patrol operates in the border zone. The policy calls for CBP to turn its focus to "border-related activities including drug and human trafficking, rather than law enforcement activities in the interior of the United States."