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August 2, 2023

We're Urging Cyr Bus Line to Resist Abusive Practices by Customs and Border Patrol 

PRESQUE ISLE – Following the unconstitutional detention of two Presque Isle residents, the ACLU of Maine is calling upon the owners of Cyr Bus Line to protect riders’ rights and end its practice of allowing armed Customs and Border Patrol agents to board buses to intimidate and interrogate customers without a warrant.

In addition to long-running blanket interrogations of all customers, CBP has recently escalated to using drug-alert dogs during inspections of Cyr buses during rest stops in Houlton. 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 and Cyr’s unnecessary cooperation to circumvent these prohibitions.

In letters to the company on June 1 and June 21, the ACLU of Maine outlined abuses by Customs and Border Patrol and urged the company to follow the example of other bus companies, such as Concord Coach and Greyhound Lines. Both companies have adopted policies that prohibit CBP agents from boarding their buses to conduct warrantless immigration checks.

“CBP is already overstepping its legal authority by regularly boarding Cyr buses, coercively interrogating [its] passengers, and handcuffing and detaining passengers if they choose to exercise their legal right to not answer. 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,” wrote Carol Garvan, legal director for the ACLU of Maine, in the June 21 letter.

Presque Isle residents Jade Hopkins and Robert Kipp are frequent users of Cyr Bus Line’s daily service. The couple doesn’t own a car and uses the bus service to visit friends and family in other parts of the state and region.

On one such trip in October 2021, two armed federal CBP agents stationed themselves outside the Cyr bus while it was making its routine rest stop in Houlton. The agents asked passengers if they were U.S. citizens. Jade asked if she was legally required to answer and the agent wrongly said yes, so Rob and Jade told the agents they were citizens.

Jade and Rob were confused and intimidated by this interrogation. The bus was not at an international border, the route does not cross an international border, and citizenship is not a requirement for riding a bus.

After being interrogated by CBP, Jade and Rob researched the practice and their rights while traveling. They learned they were not obligated to answer CBP’s questions. They decided they would exercise their right to stay silent on future trips.

“We want Cyr Bus Line to do what Concord Coach and Greyhound have both done: Deny CBP access to their buses unless they have a warrant. No one should be subjected to  suspicion, intimidation, coercion, and detainment just because they chose to ride the bus. We don’t live in a show-me-your-papers country,” said Robert Kipp.

In the months that followed, Customs and Border Patrol agents began boarding the bus to conduct their interrogations. Jade and Rob regularly witnessed Cyr drivers instructing passengers that federal agents would board the bus and passengers should answer their questions. When Rob and Jade exercised their constitutional rights by declining to answer CBP agents’ questions, they were often met with resistance. While some CBP agents accepted their answers and moved on, others repeated the question or asked other questions, such as “where were you born,” or “where are you headed.” One agent insisted they answer and asked to see identification. Another agent threatened to remove Jade from the bus, at which point she answered his questions.

“I want to live in a country that upholds its values and treats people with fairness and equality under the law. We must hold authorities and institutions of power to account when they fail to serve the people, and we must push back when unjust, pointless, and unlawful acts are carried out – particularly when done by those in charge. Rights are important. You need to exercise them and keep them strong so they are ready when you need them,” said Jade Hopkins.

CBP’s abusive practices escalated last fall. On Nov. 25, 2022, Rob and Jade took a Cyr Bus home to Presque Isle after spending Thanksgiving with family in New Hampshire. When the bus made its usual Houlton stop, the driver – as usual – warned passengers that CBP agents would be boarding and that passengers should answer their questions.

Two armed CBP agents boarded the bus and one began asking each passenger if they were citizens. Rob and Jade both stated that they were exercising their constitutional right to not answer. The agent pressed them to answer and threatened to remove them from the bus if they refused. Rob asked the agent what reasonable suspicion the agent had to justify detaining them, knowing his rights and that simply being near the border and refusing to answer questions does not create reasonable suspicion. The agent responded that it was a “U.S. immigration inspection.” Rob and Jade continued to refuse to answer.

The two agents then handcuffed Rob and Jade, forced them off the bus, and led them to a nearby parking lot where two more CBP agents were present.

One agent asked again for their immigration status. Rob and Jade continued to refuse to answer, as was their right. One agent then took their bags, which the Cyr driver had removed from the bus. When Rob asked how the agents could detain them without cause, the agent in charge said he was “not playing that game.”

The agent in charge threatened that if they didn’t answer, CBP would detain Rob and Jade, explicitly stating that he would do so to force them to miss the bus. Jade and Rob were many miles from home and had no other options.

Faced with these pressures, Rob and Jade told the agents they were U.S. citizens. The agents said that was not enough and required Jade and Rob to show identification. Jade and Rob both produced drivers’ licenses, and the agents removed their handcuffs and permitted them to leave.

“We urge Cyr Bus Line to bar Customs and Border Patrol from entering its buses without a warrant,” said ACLU of Maine Legal Director Carol Garvan. “They are allowing intrusions on their passengers’ fundamental civil rights. The best way to keep Cyr passengers safe and free from harassment is for the company to take action.”