Undocumented immigrants may face ID checks on Amtrak, Greyhound

As a Greyhound bus prepared to leave a small town near Atlanta, 19-year-old Azucena headed to the window seat on the last row , on her way to Miami to start school and a new life.

She propped a pillow against the glass and drifted off to sleep as the bus glided down the highway toward South Florida.

Around 5 a.m., Azucena, who does not want her last name used, woke up when the bus driver pulled up to the Pompano Beach bus station — one stop before her final destination.

Three U.S. Border Patrol agents boarded, announcing they would be checking IDs. She lifted her head to see one agent walking directly toward her.

“It kind of looked like they already knew who they were looking for, because they went straight to the back where I was,” said Azucena, now enrolled in a beauty school in Little Havana.

At that moment, one frightening thought raced through her mind: “Oh my God I’m being deported!’’

Azucena spent the next 76 days in a federal immigration center, Broward Transitional Center, becoming one of a fast-growing number of undocumented immigrants caught in what may be the latest crackdown: Grabbing them from public transportation, mainly Greyhound and Amtrak.

Immigration searches on public transportation sites are not well publicized. Border patrol agents generally protect the border or coastline. But, Steve Cribby, spokesperson for U. S. Customs and Border Protection, says agents have the authority to conduct immigration checks in public places. And checks on Greyhound buses and Amtrak are meant to disrupt human smuggling activities into the country’s interior, he said.

The checks are consistent with previous years, he said. Citing law enforcement sensitivity, border patrol officials would not provide figures on apprehensions on public transportation.

But attorneys and others say they have definitely seen an increase.

“I am definitely seeing a large number of people stopped by Greyhound,” said attorney Sara Van Hofwegen, who worked with Azucena to get her deportation order deferred under the proposed DREAM Act, which will provides a path to citizenship for some.

On one recent visit to the BTC in Southwest Broward, Van Hofwegen spoke to 12 detainees. Five of the 12 were apprehended on a Greyhound.

“I’d say Greyhound cases make up about 20 percent of our clients now,’’ said Juliet Williams, an assistant with the law offices of Kantaras & Andreopoulos, with offices in Central Florida. “That is much more than we’ve usually seen.”

She estimates the firm has seen an increase in Greyhound apprehensions of about 25 percent in the past two years.

Between October 2010 and May 2011, immigration agents in Florida arrested around 2,900 undocumented immigrants. That includes arrests made on public transportation, apprehensions through routine highway stops and drug cases.

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