A Concord Coach employee “was caught off-guard” by the arrival of a customs official and “made a mistake” when he told people boarding one of the company’s buses in Maine that they had to be U.S. citizens to ride, the Concord-based company says in a statement prompted by a video of the incident.
“We support our passengers’ right to decline to answer questions from CBP,” the statement said, referring to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
The statement came in response to a video posted by a person boarding a Concord Coach bus in Bangor, Maine, showing a U.S. Border Patrol agent asking each person in line on Memorial Day whether they are a U.S. citizen, a question that at least one rider refused to answer.
When a prospective rider asks a Concord Coach employee, “Do you have to be a U.S. citizen to take this bus?” the employee answers yes, twice, to which the rider responds, “I doubt that.”
The video drew sharp criticism from the New Hampshire chapter of the ACLU. “People should be able to take the bus without fear of unfounded interrogation and deportation. Concord Coach has the right to say no to border patrol,” said the chapter’s legal director, Gilles Bissonnette.
Concord Coach Lines Vice President Ben Blunt told press over the weekend that the employee was mistaken in telling riders they had to be citizens, a position the company reiterated in its statement Sunday.
Concord Coach provides inter-city bus service throughout Maine and New Hampshire, and into Massachusetts. The bulk of its business is in Maine.
“The vast majority of the time that CBP (U.S. Customs Border and Patrol) is present at our facilities, they arrive without any forewarning and we have very limited interaction with them,” the statement said. “Like any transportation company, this is true of all law enforcement agencies. … The CBP typically questions passengers in common areas like the boarding and loading docks that are open to all customers.”
As for the video, the statement claimed, “The terminal employee was caught off-guard with a question that he was unprepared to answer and made a mistake that we share.”
Border Patrol agents have more extensive authority to question people within 100 miles of an international border.
This region includes all of Maine and virtually all of New Hampshire, even areas that are further than 100 miles from the land border with Canada, because the coastline is also considered an international border.
Bangor is the northern-most major city in Maine, located slightly farther north than Berlin, N.H.
(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)