New York City filed a $708 million lawsuit against the bus companies that Texas uses to smuggle unwitting migrants across state lines. The suit cites New York Social Services Law § 149, which imposes a financial liability upon any actor who knowingly brings a person into New York for the purpose of making that person a public charge. Any entity violating this law must compensate the state for the cost of public services rendered.
Since Texas governor Greg Abbott loudly and repeatedly proclaiming that (a) he was putting migrants on buses out of state and (b) for the purpose of taking the financial burden off Texas and putting it on New York, and then you add in that Texas wasn’t buying a bunch anonymous Greyhound tickets but booking CHARTERS, it’s nigh on impossible for the bus companies to claim they didn’t know who they were carrying and why.
Now comes GW Law professor Jonathan Turley:
New York City Major Eric Adams announced on Thursday that he is suing bus companies for over $700 million for busing undocumented persons to the state. This is truly a thing to behold. It is a frivolous lawsuit based on an absurd law motivated by raw hypocrisy.
“Frivolous” declares the man absolutely thirsty to get invited to appear on Fox News tonight.
It is doubtful that anyone in New York seriously believes that they can force bus or airline companies to pay for migrants coming to a self-proclaimed sanctuary city.
Paul Weiss isn’t really in the habit of bringing cases it doesn’t seriously believe in. The firm is representing the city in this suit.
Turley harps on this “sanctuary city” point a lot despite it being wholly irrelevant to the issue as a legal matter. All it means to be a “sanctuary city” is that local law enforcement refuses to be unofficially deputized by the feds. When an undocumented migrant comes to the police for help because they’re being beaten by their husband or to report a violent gang member, a sanctuary city just commits to not turning the victim over to ICE. As a policy, it’s designed to keep people from unduly suffering because they’re afraid that merely seeking help will get them deported… which is a pretty good idea!
But, again, that’s neither here nor there. Turley is arguing that New York Social Services Law § 149 is on its face untenable.
It is a cynical effort to impose litigation costs on companies to get them to refuse to accept such contracts. Yet, how is a company supposed to determine if someone purchasing a ticket is a potential “public charge.” Does that apply to anyone who is impoverished? What proof of support is needed from the passenger? Such inquiries would themselves violated legal and constitutional protections.
Does he think we can’t have laws imposing liability on bus companies that — to use his own words — are just “transporting these people because they or a third party paid the fare for transport”?
Because he’s wrong.
Here, let’s try this again with some edits:
“Yet, how is a company supposed to determine if someone purchasing a ticket is a potential
“public charge.” [sex trafficking victim]. Does that apply to anyone who is impoverished [going to have sex in another state]? What proof of support is needed from the passenger?”
This is not a hypothetical.
The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act — and any number of state laws that mirror its language (including Texas Code § 98.002!) — creates: “significant corporate liability for entities, including hotels, casinos and restaurants, that benefit from human trafficking if they know or ‘should have known’ about the exploitation.” As Biglaw firm Pillsbury noted in a white paper on the subject (emphasis added):
Any range of businesses may similarly come in contact with sex trafficking victims or benefit from their exploitation, including casinos, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, concert and sports venues, banks, advertisers and transportation companies.
No one seriously argues that the TVPA amounts to a constitutional overreach. No one suggests that it’s an untenable burden upon interstate commerce to go after bus companies that facilitate sex trafficking by their own reckless neglect. Because sex traffickers are going to go ahead and be criminals, but the respectable businesses that they exploit might actually do something to disrupt the criminal enterprise if they’re worried about getting sued.
Even Turley’s buddy Donald Trump reauthorized this law!
So… back to it:
“Yet, how is a company supposed to determine if someone purchasing a ticket is a potential ‘public charge.’”
When the governor buying the tickets explicitly says he’s doing it for the purpose of shifting the financial burden to another state.
Does that apply to anyone who is impoverished?
No, but it applies when the company knows (or is reckless in not knowing) that it’s participating in a scheme to transport impoverished people.
What proof of support is needed from the passenger?
Perhaps bus companies can’t develop policies to catch every instance where a 14-year-old girl buying a ticket is a sex trafficking victim. But they can avoid having whole buses chartered by someone holding a letter saying “we’re booking this to transport kidnapped sex slaves.” Given the record here, the companies have more than exceeded wherever one draws the reasonable line of proof.
Maybe Turley is prepared to explicitly declare the TVPA an unconstitutional infringement on corporate rights to profit off interstate sex trafficking. But, assuming he’s not, let’s go ahead and ignore his sophomoric analysis of New York Social Services Law § 149.
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.