The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine is asking federal officials to hand over records related to citizenship checks at two major transportation hubs in Maine.

Zachary Heiden, the legal director of the ACLU of Maine, said passengers boarding a Concord Coach bus at the Bangor Transportation Center last week were met by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents asking about their citizenship.

Immigration inspections at transportation hubs are not a new practice. U.S. Border Patrol, which is part of Customs and Border Protection, has 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, the ACLU said.

“We don’t want to live in a society where the government is always demanding that we show our papers,” says Zachary Heiden, legal director for the ACLU of Maine.

But Heiden said there is evidence these inspections are becoming more frequent under the new enforcement priorities of the Trump administration. A video of U.S. Border Patrol agents detaining a woman on a bus in Florida drew attention to the practice when it went viral this week.

“We don’t want to live in a society where the government is always demanding that we show our papers,” Heiden said.

No one on the Concord Coach bus in Bangor was arrested. Still, a passenger alerted the ACLU of Maine. Heiden said it was the first time the organization had heard of Border Patrol agents inspecting a bus in Maine.


The call prompted the organization to seek records from the past year related to citizenship inquiries at the Bangor and Portland transportation centers. The Freedom of Information Act request covers internal communications like text messages and emails, as well as reports or meeting minutes. The organization filed its request Wednesday and had not received a response as of Thursday afternoon.

“We don’t have much more information about what is going on in Maine,” Heiden said. “This Freedom of Information Act request is our way of trying to learn more about what Homeland Security is doing and why they’re doing it.”

Jonathan Maynard, the public affairs liaison for the agency’s Houlton sector, confirmed an immigration inspection took place in Bangor on Jan. 14.

“Enforcement actions away from the border are within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Border Patrol and performed in direct support of immediate border enforcement efforts and as a means of preventing smuggling and criminal organizations from exploiting existing transportation hubs to travel to the interior of the United States,” Maynard wrote in an email. “These operations at transportation hubs serve as a vital component of the U.S. Border Patrol’s national security efforts.”

Maynard did not respond to questions about how often inspections take place and what documents are required to prove citizenship.

A message at the corporate office for Concord Coach was not returned Thursday. A manager at the Concord Coach station in Bangor who would only identify himself as Tim said he did not recall any recent visit from Border Patrol agents. Such visits are unannounced and uncommon, he said.


“One in a while, they’ll be here, but very rarely,” he said.

In the video from Florida, Border Patrol agents detained a Jamaican citizen who had an expired tourist visa. One passenger told a local TV station that the agents asked everyone to show “a U.S. identification or a passport with a stamp of entrance.”

On its website, the ACLU advises people that they have the right to remain silent if questioned about their immigration status.

Sue Roche, executive director of the Portland-based Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, said she has heard of immigration checkpoints in Maine in the past, but they are not frequent. She said she was concerned about the report of the bus inspection in Bangor.

“It creates a climate where people are afraid to take public transportation,” Roche said. “They are afraid to go to school. Even if they have a pending application, they are afraid to get in trouble because they don’t have a green card yet. I think this type of incident heightens the fear in the community,”

Roche said immigrant checkpoints or inspections can raise concern about racial profiling by Border Patrol agents.


“They are required to ask the same information of everyone, regardless of their race or any other factors,” she said.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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