Greyhound Bus company policy irks Latino groups

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Sep 24 15:12:26 UTC 2005

Bus company policy irks Latino groups

Ticket sellers told to deny service to apparent illegals
By Leslie Berestein and Norma de la Vega
September 23, 2005

One recent afternoon at the Greyhound bus terminal in San Ysidro, Latino
passengers waited to travel to points north such as Los Angeles and Las
Vegas. What they didn't know as they waited is that for the past three
years, the Dallas-based bus company has warned its employees not to sell
tickets "to anyone you know or believe to be an illegal alien," or face
termination, arrest or both. undocumented immigrants.  Greyhound said the
internal policy is based on federal law and is meant to address immigrant
smuggling, and was put in place for fear of legal consequences if the law
is broken. But it also opens the door to racial profiling, say some
national Latino advocacy organizations, which are hoping to persuade the
company to reconsider its rules. "The real point is that immigrant
smuggling is against the law, but you don't have to protect against it by
going to the lengths that Greyhound has apparently done with its policy,"
said John Trasvia, senior vice president for law and policy with the
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in Los Angeles, which
has been talking with the company in recent weeks about the policy.

Anna Folmnsbee, a spokeswoman for Greyhound Lines Inc., said the company
has had a policy of not selling tickets to undocumented people for about
16 years. Greyhound began warning employees specifically not to violate
the law or else face the consequences as part of their training in 2002,
after the 2001 indictment of a Los Angeles-based regional bus company that
pleaded guilty to immigrant smuggling. "We want our employees to be in
compliance with the law," Folmnsbee said.  "We want to follow the law, and
we want to protect our employees."

But fear of winding up in trouble has caused the company to set itself up
for potential discrimination against law-abiding Latino passengers,
critics say. A section of Greyhound's "Transportation of Illegal Aliens"
guidelines that deals with how to identify an immigrant smuggler cautions
em ployees to be on the lookout for people who use the Spanish word
pollito the diminutive form of pollo, or chicken, what smugglers call
their clients in addition to other terms. "There are elements in there
which make it very clear they are talking about Latinos," Trasvia said.
"The policy really screams of racial profiling and discrimination from
start to end."

Greyhound's internal policy became known outside the company after being
reported in Spanish-language media this month. Last week, the Mexican
American Legal Defense and Educational Fund sent a letter to Greyhound
seeking clarification as to the need for such a policy; also this month,
that organization and the National Council of La Raza in Washington, D.C.,
held a conference call with Greyhound's general counsel. Trasvia said he
is hoping for an answer from the company, which he described as being
cooperative, by tomorrow.

The guidelines are not meant to teach employees to single out individual
passengers but smuggled groups, Folmnsbee said. In addition to pointing
out possible signs of a smuggler, the guidelines also contain language
such as, "How do you recognize groups of illegal aliens?" Employees are
advised to be on the lookout for large groups traveling together, that are
led by a guide, that are traveling with little or no luggage or that are
"moving in single file."

Because smugglers are identified as "buying quantities of tickets for
other passengers," employees are not allowed to sell to groups of six or
more unless a group travel form is completed and approved. The document
instructs employees not to engage in racial profiling and not to
discriminate on the basis of race, national heritage or other
characteristics. "We are not asking our employees to act as any kind of
enforcement agency," Folmnsbee said.

However, according to the guidelines, employees must cooperate with
governmental authorities and must be aware that "the Company and/or the
government is watching and listening to you!" "It does put a lot of
pressure on the individual employees," Trasvia said.  "It threatens them
with arrest if they don't follow the law, and being fired. We think that
Greyhound is going overboard."

The policy was adopted in response to the 2001 indictment of the
now-defunct Golden State Transportation Co. of Los Angeles on
immigrant-smuggling charges. The company later filed for bankruptcy and
pleaded guilty last year to transporting an estimated 42,100 illegal
immigrants from Tucson to Los Angeles, using a roundabout route through
Las Vegas to avoid Border Patrol checkpoints. The company paid a $3
million fine and forfeited a downtown Phoenix terminal. "It was done
directly for fear of legal consequences," Folmnsbee said of Greyhound's
decision to warn employees afterward. "There were very severe

Greyhound, which carried 21.2 million passengers last year to more than
2,200 destinations with a fleet of 2,700 buses and 9,700 employees, isn't
the only company with such a policy. Sistema Internacional de Transporte
de Autobuses Inc., a Greyhound subsidiary, owned a 51 percent stake in
Golden State. It operates the Crucero and Autobuses Americanos bus lines
and has had a policy similar to Greyhound's since 2002, said Al Penedo,
chief operating officer.

"It might sound a little overzealous, but we were scared, concerned and
confused about what happened to Golden State," Penedo said. "It was a
wake-up call. ... (The federal government) can walk in, take the bus, put
your driver in jail and throw away the key." According to U.S. Immigration
and Customs Enforcement, which investigated Golden State, there has been a
trend in recent years among immigrant smugglers to move their human cargo
around the country on buses or by airplane. There has also been a recent
increase in cross-border tourist buses being used to smuggle drugs in
specially built compartments, said Lauren Mack, a bureau spokeswoman in
San Diego.

While the agency does not monitor bus terminals, Border Patrol agents in
the San Diego area occasionally inspect local terminals, as well as
trolleys and sometimes city buses. In spite of Greyhound's warnings to
employees, passengers aren't asked for identification cards, just their
names. The instances of customers being refused a ticket have been "very
rare, if ever," Folmnsbee said.

This was borne out at the Greyhound terminal in San Ysidro, where
independent sales agent Ricardo Castro said he has never denied a customer
a ticket. He said he had not seen a copy of the policy in question, but
that he was aware of it. "If I were to discriminate against Mexicans, I
would close the business,"  said Castro, who said he has worked at the
terminal for 15 years. In the waiting room, passengers said they hadn't
had any problems buying tickets. Jesus Garcia, 65, on his way home to Los
Angeles after visiting family members in Mexico, said he has ridden
Greyhound buses for 30 years with no hassles.

Jose Canela, 62, also of Los Angeles, was headed home after a visit to
Tijuana. "Things are never exactly the way you want them to be," he said
after learning about the company's policy, "but it is a good service."

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