Archive for January 2018

Border Patrol agents spark anger after boarding bus in Florida to ask passengers for proof of citizenship

The two uniformed U.S. Border Patrol agents clambered aboard a Greyhound bus in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and instructed passengers to show proof of citizenship.

"This is new?" a woman on the bus from Orlando to Miami asked fellow passengers as agents questioned another woman several seats in front of them. "You ridden on the bus before?"

"Yeah," another passenger replied. "A police officer is not even allowed to ask for immigration papers.… You have no right to stop me and ask me for ID."

Video of the encounter Friday spread on social media over the last few days, generating fierce criticism from rights advocates who question the legality of such searches.

"Proof of citizenship is NOT required to ride a bus!" the Florida Immigrant Coalition said in a statement when it shared the video on Twitter.

Though immigration inspections on Greyhound buses are not widely publicized, they are not new. Border Patrol agents routinely conduct such inspections at transportation centers across Florida, the Customs and Border Protection’s Miami sector said in a statement Tuesday.

Over the years, activists have voiced concern in cities from Miami to Spokane, Wash.

Some activists say that such enforcement actions violate the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The ACLU of Florida said it was investigating what happened at the Fort Lauderdale bus station. "We are extremely concerned with the contents of this video," it said in a statement.

"Immigration raids yield to unconstitutional practices that can violate the right to equal protection and the Fourth Amendment by coercing vulnerable individuals to submit to interrogations about their citizenship and immigration status, conducting unreasonable searches and seizure and targeting people of color," the statement said.

Customs and Border Protection officials say they are following federal regulations. The Immigration and Nationality Act allows immigration officers to conduct searches, without a warrant, within 100 miles of any U.S. border. The entire state of Florida is within 100 miles of the coast.

With tickets from Orlando to Miami selling from as little as $28, Greyhound is a popular means of travel for many poor, working people, including immigrants. Many do not have driver’s licenses.

Border Patrol agents should not be allowed to board private Greyhound buses to question travelers without a judicial warrant, said Isabel Sousa-Rodriguez, membership director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

"This creates terrifying concerns for our community," she said. "Are Border Patrol officers going to be stopping us and asking us for our citizenship when we are at public parks, when we go to get groceries, when our kids are walking to school?"

While Customs and Border Protection officials say such inspections are vital to national security, activists counter that they erode public trust in police, breed fear and threaten public safety.

Sousa-Rodriguez said there was a need for stricter limits and parameters to the 100-mile rule, as well as more accountability and training of officers.

"Is there anywhere in our state that we are safe from the harassment and invasion and infringement upon our civil liberties?" she said. "Do we have any protections in this country anymore?"

The video, which as of Tuesday afternoon had amassed 2.3 million views since it was posted Saturday, shows two uniformed officers, with "POLICE U.S. BORDER PATROL" emblazoned on the back of their shirts, walking through the bus.

As the video rolls, passengers near the back of the bus lift up their cellphones to shoot videos. Among themselves, some question the agents’ right to demand identification.

After questioning the woman near the middle of the bus and inspecting her identification, an agent asks: "Where’s your luggage?"

The woman was heading to a friend’s house in Miami after visiting family in Virginia and meeting her granddaughter for the first time, Sousa-Rodriguez said.

In statement Saturday shared by the coalition, the woman’s daughter-in-law said she was concerned about the officers questioning the woman without a lawyer present.

The Border Patrol’s Miami sector said Tuesday that agents arrested a Jamaican woman at the Fort Lauderdale bus station. Officials said the woman had overstayed her visa and was transported to the Dania Beach Border Patrol station and then turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation proceedings.

Activists in Florida say they have long heard regular complaints from immigrants using Greyhound, but the number of calls appears to have gone up in recent months.

"We’ve gotten calls from people who have seen immigration officers on their buses in Tallahassee, in Gainesville, in Tampa, in Orlando," Sousa-Rodriguez said. "It’s really a pervasive problem."

With mounting criticism of its practice of allowing Border Patrol agents on its buses, Greyhound released a statement saying it was required to follow all local, state and federal laws and cooperate with enforcement agencies.

"We hear you, and we are listening," the statement said. "Unfortunately, even routine transportation checks negatively impact our operations and some customers directly.

"We encourage anyone with concerns about what happened to reach out directly to these agencies," the statement said. "Greyhound will also reach out to the agencies to see if there is anything we can do on our end to minimize any negative effect of this process."

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Florida prisoners plan Martin Luther King Day strike over ‘slavery’

Inmates of Florida’s prisons are planning to use Monday’s Martin Luther King Day holiday to launch a statewide strike over conditions they say amount to modern-day slavery.

The unusual protest has been called by inmates angry at being used as unpaid clean-up crews for storm debris in sweltering temperatures last September, after Hurricane Irma struck the state.

But organisers cite a number of other long-standing grievances for the planned month-long action, in which prisoners will refuse to take part in work assignments and forego purchasing “overpriced” luxury items such as snacks and toiletries, in an attempt to hit the state’s department of corrections in the pocket.

“Our goal is to make the governor realise that it will cost the state of Florida millions of dollars daily to contract outside companies to come and cook, clean and handle the maintenance,” the unnamed prisoners said in a statement posted on the website of the inmates’ advocacy group Fight Toxic Prisons.

“This will cause a total breakdown. We must use everything we have to show that we mean business.”

Florida has the nation’s third-largest prison system with 97,000 inmates, according to state figures. It is also one of the most troubled and violent such systems, with allegations of abuse of inmates rife.

In 2017, officers were cleared of blame for the death of a mentally ill patient they left in a scalding shower for two hours as punishment. In-depth investigations by the Miami Herald uncovered large numbers of rapes, beatings and cover-ups in the state’s non-air-conditioned jails.

The prisoners have dubbed their protest Operation Push, after civil rights leader Jesse Jackson’s 1970s campaign to improve economic conditions for African Americans. Almost a third of Florida inmates are black, compared to fewer than 17% in the general population.

One key demand is a reasonable wage for the labour inmates provide.

“They force them to work at gunpoint and they pay them nothing,” said Paul Wright, executive director of the Florida-based Human Rights Defense Cener.

“There’s a word for that, it’s called slavery.

“Florida is one of the few states in the country that doesn’t pretend to pay even a nominal wage. Some states might say they pay 10 cents a day, or 15 cents an hour, or whatever, but here they make it pretty clear they don’t pay prisoners anything, they’re not going to, and prisoners are totally enslaved at every level.

“There’s no legal way for Florida’s prisoners to earn money in the prison system.”

The inmates also want the return of parole as an incentive for those with long-term sentences and an end to what they see as price gouging on food and other necessities.

“One case of soup on the street cost $4, it costs us $17 on the inside,” the prisoners said in their statement. “This is highway robbery without a gun. It’s not just us that they’re taking from. It’s our families who struggle to make ends meet and send us money, they are the real victims.”

Advocacy groups and friends and families of inmates have organised solidarity rallies outside several prisons and department of corrections offices on Monday, including in Miami and Tallahassee.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, officials sent an email to employees at department headquarters urging them to lock doors and stay inside during the protests.

Tensions are running high in the Florida prison system. Last August, all facilities were placed on a three-day lockdown after unspecific threats of rioting.

In an emailed statement to the Guardian and other media outlets, department of corrections communications director Michelle Glady did not address detailed questions about the planned response to Monday’s planned protests.

“The department will continue to ensure the safe operation of our correctional facilities,” she said.

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90-year-old Tampa man missing, cold prompts safety concerns

TAMPA, Fla. – Investigators searching for a missing 90-year-old man are concerned for his safety due to the cold weather.

Sebastian Francis was last seen at about 11:15 a.m. outside the Winn Dixie supermarket at 2525 N. Dale Mabry Highway. He waited in a vehicle while a family member went inside the store, but when they returned, Francis and the vehicle was gone, Tampa police said.

Francis does not have a phone, does not drive and lives several miles away from the supermarket, police said.

"Tampa Police have been searching for him for several hours and are now asking for help from the public, especially given Mr. Francis’ advanced age and the prospects of a very cold night," the department said in a statement.

Francis is described as a black male, approximately 5 feet 2 inches tall, 130 pounds with gray hair. He was last seen wearing a heavy black jacket and dark pants.

Anyone with information regarding Francis’ whereabouts is asked to contact Tampa police at 813-231-6130.

© 2018 WTSP-TV

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