Management & Operations

L.A. bus company thinks way outside the box

Posted on January 1, 2002 by Steve Hirano, editor

Tour and charter bus operators have been bombarded with the advice “not to sit around and wait for the phone to ring.” That is, get out there and drum up business. Well, a Los Angeles–based company may have taken that advice a bit too far. Golden State Transportation is accused of conspiring to transport tens of thousands of illegal immigrants from U.S. towns along the Mexican border to cities in California, Colorado and Washington state. According to a 35-page federal indictment, the bus company picked up scores of illegal immigrants each day in Texas and Arizona border towns and traveled routes designed to evade Border Patrol checkpoints. The trips often were made in the middle of the night with pick-up points in secluded areas, federal officials said. Probe lasted two years The investigation, called Operation Great Basin, lasted two years and involved some 300 agents and officers from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the FBI, the U.S. Marshals as well as local and state law enforcement agencies. The culmination of the investigation — the arrests of 32 bus company employees — was followed by a Dec. 10 press conference presided over by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who described the operation as the “largest immigrant-smuggling case ever brought against a U.S. commercial carrier.” In his statement Ashcroft linked the smuggling operation to the events of Sept. 11, saying the terrorist attacks “remind Americans in the most painful way of the need to defend our borders while keeping them open to peaceful, freedom-loving people.” If the allegations are true, Golden State Transportation has broken laws and sullied the reputation of the motorcoach industry and should receive appropriate punishment. Although the company apparently fulfilled a desired transportation need, let’s face it, it was thinking too far outside the box. Having said that, I’ve got to admit that I’m confused by Ashcroft’s comments and disconcerted by this expansive use of government resources. The weakest link to Sept. 11 First of all, how exactly did Operation Great Basin remind us of the need to “defend our borders”? For two years law enforcement authorities apparently allowed thousands of illegal immigrants to be transported from U.S. border towns into the nation’s interior. If they wanted to defend the border, wouldn’t it make more sense to return these immigrants to their country of origin before they got on the bus? Secondly, I’d like to know how much was spent on this operation. The 300 agents and officers from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies who helped in the two-year investigation probably logged enough hours to generate sizeable paychecks. Also worth mentioning, the impact of the operation, even if the Golden State Transportation employees are found guilty and removed from the industry, will likely be negligible. The smugglers who allegedly conspired with the bus company are incredibly resourceful and their “contraband” is highly motivated. They’ll find other ways to sneak into Los Angeles, Denver and Yakima, Wash. — the destinations of many of Golden State’s allegedly unlawful passengers — and a hundred other cities if they care to. Ashcroft and the INS are trumpeting this investigation as an example of how federal authorities are responding to the events of Sept. 11. I’d prefer they focus on ways to keep illegal immigrants, from all foreign nations, from crossing the border in the first place and, once discovered, returned to their homeland. Allowing unlawful immigrants to move freely about the country for two years to “build a case” against a single motorcoach operator runs counter to common sense.

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