When it comes to our constitutional rights, we all have an obligation to stand up for what’s right.
That’s exactly what Jade Hopkins and Robert Kipp of Presque Isle did when they questioned the tactics used by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents to interrogate and intimidate Cyr Bus Line travelers during routine rest stops in Houlton.
We are asking Cyr Bus Line to join other bus operators, such as Concord Coach and Greyhound Lines, and adopt policies that protect their passengers from abusive CBP practices by denying federal agents access to Cyr buses without a warrant.
Customs and Border Patrol agents regularly board Cyr buses during rest stops in Houlton. During the stops, they interrogate passengers about their immigration status without a warrant and without any reasonable suspicion the passengers may be violating immigration laws.
On November 25, 2022, border agents handcuffed Jade and Rob, removed them from the bus, and detained them when they refused to answer agents’ questions. Jade and Rob’s luggage was taken off the bus and they were threatened with being stranded in Houlton unless they complied with agents, who not only questioned their immigration status but also demanded identification.
Needless to say, you do not need to be a U.S. citizen to ride a bus in Maine or anywhere else in the United States.
In addition to interrogations and illegal detention, the ACLU of Maine has learned that CBP is now also using drug-sniffing dogs to search all passengers’ luggage.
We also understand that Cyr bus drivers are instructing passengers that these dogs are drug-sniffing dogs and that CBP will confiscate any drugs they may find, including cannabis that can be legally possessed in Maine, including for essential medical care.
CBP is already overstepping its legal authority by regularly boarding Cyr buses, coercively interrogating passengers, and handcuffing and detaining passengers if they choose to exercise their legal right to not answer these unnecessary questions. But CBP’s new practice of using drug-alerting dogs to search all Cyr passengers’ luggage represents an even more egregious violation of passengers’ basic civil rights, for at least three separate reasons.
First, CBP’s use of drug-alert dogs is a clear attempt to expand its authority despite prohibitions imposed by the United States Supreme Court and federal law. CBP is not allowed to establish a checkpoint and search all vehicles in a certain area for drugs or board a bus to search for drugs without a warrant. CBP is using Cyr’s rest stop to circumvent these prohibitions. Since CBP cannot board or stop Cyr’s buses to search for drugs, CBP uses the drug-alert dogs and the rest stop to perform the search anyway. This demonstrates CBP’s disregard for the spirit of the law and the passengers’ privacy rights.
Second, CBP’s use of dogs is inherently problematic because the dogs routinely falsely indicate there are drugs where there are none. CBP has acknowledged its dogs sometimes have false alerts. At one CBP checkpoint, 96% of the dog alerts were false positives; in another case, 70% of CBP’s canine alerts were false positives. Despite being aware of this data and knowing its dogs are often wrong, CBP maintains that dog alerts create probable cause, and they use these false alarms to justify searching luggage or cars. In other words, CBP intentionally uses its poorly trained dogs as an excuse to search wherever they feel like searching. CBP’s continued use of canine alerts, despite their demonstrated lack of reliability, shows CBP’s disregard for the rights and well-being of Cyr passengers.
Third, CBP’s apparent intent to confiscate marijuana underscores that the canine units are not being used for any legitimate law enforcement purpose. Maine state law makes it legal to possess marijuana for recreational or medical purposes. Additionally, more than one year ago, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would not prioritize prosecuting marijuana-related offenses. Shortly afterwards, President Biden pardoned federal convictions for marijuana possession. In other words, possessing marijuana is not a crime under state law and is not being prosecuted under federal law; there is no legitimate law enforcement reason for CBP to search for and confiscate marijuana. CBP’s flouting of state law and federal enforcement priorities shows the agency’s complete indifference to the law.
It takes a lot of courage to stand up to armed Customs and Border Patrol agents, to be placed and handcuffs and interrogated – all for doing nothing more than exercising your constitutional rights.
Jade and Rob took a stand for what’s right. We’re asking Cyr Bus Line to do the same: Stop the CBP interrogations and protect their passengers.