Concord Coach Lines says it was a “mistake” for an employee to falsely tell passengers in Bangor last month that they needed to be a U.S. citizen to ride the company’s buses.

The unidentified employee was captured in a video taken by passenger Alec Larson on May 28 that was shared on social media and promoted by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, where Larson is from. The video was taken while U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents were at the bus station asking would-be riders about their citizenship.

When an agent approached Larson and asked if he was a U.S. citizen, he responded, “I’m not answering that question, sir,” and the man moved on. Others, though, wondered aloud whether citizenship was required to ride. One asked the bus terminal employee, who replied falsely, “Yes.”

“This terminal employee was caught off-guard with a question that he was unprepared to answer and made a mistake that we share,” Concord Coach Lines said in a statement released Friday. “On June 1, we communicated with our staff, reiterating and clarifying that we allow anyone and everyone to ride our bus regardless of citizenship.”

Ben Blunt, vice president for the New Hampshire-based company that operates buses throughout northern New England, declined in an interview Monday to say whether the employee was disciplined but said the man was a longtime employee who had never been asked that question before.

The experience in Bangor was the latest example of border patrol checks at bus stations in Maine over the past year as the Trump administration has beefed up immigration enforcement.

Customs and Border Protection agents have the authority to conduct citizenship checks without a warrant within 100 miles of the nation’s land and coastal borders. That includes the entire state of Maine. Ten other states – Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont – lie entirely or almost entirely in that 100-mile zone.

A spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection said the department has increased its transportation checks around the country, “to reinforce CBP’s world-class approach to border security.” She said transportation centers, including bus terminals, are often used by “alien-smuggling and drug-trafficking organizations to move people, narcotics and contraband to interior destinations throughout the country.”

Blunt said his company has not tracked the number of checks by border officials, but said the frequency has ramped up considerably in the past six months. Concord Coach Lines said it has no agreement with the federal agency and does not receive any advance notice.

“It’s become pretty frequent,” he said. “They show up and do their thing, and we hope it doesn’t impact ridership.”

Emma Bond, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said the stops have had a chilling effect and can be seen as a form of racial profiling. She said passengers should know that they still have rights under the Fourth Amendment, which generally prohibits warrantless searches.

“You can remain silent if you do not want to disclose immigration status,” she said. “If they ask to search, you can say no. And you have the right to record so long as you don’t interfere.”

Bond said the passenger who took the recent video in Bangor “provided a great public service” for others who may not know their rights.

In April, the ACLU of both Maine and New Hampshire urged Concord Coach Lines to create a formal policy not to allow border agents on buses without a warrant, except at the border. The civil rights organization sent a similar letter to Greyhound, another major bus carrier that operates in Maine.

Bond said Monday that Concord has been advised by its legal counsel that it cannot bar agents from conducting checks. He also criticized the ACLU for not reaching out to Concord in a collaborative way.

“Other than a letter and a public berating, we haven’t had dialogue with the ACLU,” he said.

While citizenship checks appear to be happening more frequently at bus terminals, no publicly available data has been released to support or refute the anecdotal evidence. Last month, the ACLU of Maine sued two federal agencies over an unfulfilled public records request related to citizenship checks at major transportation hubs.

“One of our biggest concerns is whether what we’re seeing from reports and social media is just the tip of the iceberg,” Bond said. “This is why we sent our records request about checkpoint activity.”

The two agencies – Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security – responded to the ACLU complaint in federal court on Monday, essentially arguing that the records request should not have to be fulfilled because elements of it are exempt from freedom of information laws.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

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Twitter: PPHEricRussell

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