Officer's immigration status question raises many more

Lawyers and advocates say Twin Cities minorities are increasingly getting asked their immigration status—just like an officer asks a light-rail rider in a viral video.

“We’ve seen it, even before the election. But even more so now,” said Robin Phillips, executive director of The Advocates for Human Rights. “And not just with metro police, but with individuals, private citizens. We’re seeing a lot of people making comments, verbal harassment.”

Metro Transit Police are currently investigating a part-time officer seen in a video asking a blue-line rider if he was in the country illegally. John Harrington, chief of the Metro Transit Police, said asking the immigration status of riders is not the practice of Metro Transit Police.

Immigration is a matter of federal law.

While federal law does not prohibit local police from asking people their immigration status, many cities and departments—including Minneapolis and St. Paul—mostly forbid the question with the intention of encouraging stronger ties between the community and police.

“State and local law enforcement agencies and representatives should not be implementing federal immigration laws,” said Loan Huynh, an immigration attorney at Fredrikson & Byron.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, sometimes partners with local police to enforce federal immigration laws. To do so, the local agencies must sign agreements with ICE and their officers must go through additional training.

So far, 41 agencies in 17 states have signed such agreements. No agencies in Minnesota are participating.

“I think it’s important for the public to know they have rights, to seek legal assistance before answering a question about their legal status,” Huynh said.

“People should know they can trust the police,” Phillips said.