The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol denied Monday that it owes the Maine ACLU a response to its request for records regarding its alleged practice of performing citizenship checks at Maine bus stops.
In a Monday filing in U.S. District Court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office confirmed that CBP “ran a transportation check at the Bangor Transportation Center on or about Jan. 14, 2018,” but dismissed the ACLU’s legal argument that sought to force the disclosure of records related to that check and reports of others that have occurred in Maine.
On May 1, the ACLU sued the federal agency to act on a Jan. 18 request it had submitted under the Freedom of Information Act. That request sought all records, from Jan. 1 to present, related to the federal agency’s citizenship checkpoints across the state, based on reports in Maine and across the country that border agents were asking riders if they were U.S. citizens as they boarded the bus.
The request also inquired into the level of coordination with federal, state and local law enforcement to carry out those checks, which has sparked concern and fear among bus riders. It also asked to know number of people questioned, their country of origin, race and ethnicity, and the criminal or immigration charges against those questioned.
The ACLU argued that those reports were in the public interest, “as demonstrated by passengers and members of the public who have spoken up about the CBP’s intrusive operations,” according to its complaint.
The ACLU’s request was spurred by multiple reports dating back to January of passengers being questioned at transportation centers in Portland and Bangor.
Late last month, a CBP agent was recorded on video at the Bangor Transportation Center asking passengers who were waiting to board a Concord Coach Lines bus whether or not they were U.S. citizens. CBP agents have reportedly approached passengers at the Bangor transit hub at least three times since the beginning of the year, according to BDN reports.
CBP never responded to the request, according to the Monday filing, and also brushed off whether it was required to respond. It denied “each and every allegation” of the ACLU’s complaint except for a handful of basic facts, and it confirmed that the agency performed a “transportation check” in Bangor in January.
The pending lawsuit comes at a time when U.S.-Mexican border tensions have hit a fever pitch. Republicans and Democrats alike have scorned the Trump administration for its approach to illegal immigration enforcement, which has involved separating hundreds of children from their families for attempting to illegally cross the border.
“CBP needs to get used to the fact that they are a government agency, and the public has a right to know about their operations, so they have to be transparent and disclose things,” said Emma Bond, a staff attorney for the Maine ACLU. “That’s true in immigration centers as they’re illegally detaining children, and it’s also true when it comes to checkpoints and questioning at bus stations,” she said.
In Monday’s filing, the U.S. Attorney’s Office argued that the ACLU’s lawsuit was based on either allegations, unsubstantiated reports or reports about which the CBP had insufficient knowledge “to which no response is required and which defendants otherwise deny to the extent deemed necessary,” the filing stated.
Going forward, the court will schedule a conference for both parties to decide the next steps, Bond said.
BDN Reporter Alex Acquisto contributed to this report.
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