Riding Transit Should Never Be a Pathway to Deportation

A fare inspection on a Twin Cities light rail line led to ICE deporting Ariel Vences-Lopez.

"Are you here illegally?" is not a question that Twin Cities transit police are supposed to ask. Image: Ricardo Levins Morales/Facebook
"Are you here illegally?" is not a question that Twin Cities transit police are supposed to ask. Image: Ricardo Levins Morales/Facebook

A sad story has been unfolding over the past few weeks in the Twin Cities, where a transit fare enforcement stop led to a man being deported. The officer who initiated the stop, Andy Lamers, has since been fired, but it was too late for the passenger, Ariel Vences-Lopez, 23.

Video posted to Facebook from a bystander shows Lamers, a Metro Transit Police officer, questioning Vences-Lopez, during a fare check on a Metro Transit light rail train on May 14. Lamers asks for Vences-Lopez’s name and state-issued ID before asking: “Are you here illegally?”

That’s when the bystander asks the officer, “Are you guys authorized to act as immigration police? …I would not act on behalf of another agency if you’re not legally empowered to do so.” The officer says “okay” and backs off the line of questioning before the video stops. To the people who saw it on social media, that’s where the story ends.

But since then more details have emerged.

The two men got off the train at the 38th Street station in Minneapolis, where, according to a police incident report described by the Pioneer Press, Lamers used a Taser to subdue Vences-Lopez:

What started as a confrontation over fare evasion “evolved into false information and obstructing,” the report says…

“Subject was asked to sit on the bench,” the report says, but instead he “stepped over the bench and stood.”

Eventually the man sat, but he kept shifting his body away from the officer. Then he stood up again and refused further requests to sit, “flexing his hands and blading his body toward the officer,” according to the report.

When the officer grabbed the man’s arms, “he tensed his body and tried to pull away, stepped onto and over the bench again,” the report said.

He also refused verbal commands to go to the ground and resisted physical efforts to take him to the ground, according to the report. That’s when the officer deployed the Taser once to the man’s left side.

Vences-Lopez was arrested by transit police and transferred to the custody of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office “on suspicion of obstructing the legal process, giving an officer a false name and fare evasion,” says the Star-Tribune:

That’s when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement placed an immigration detainer for Vences-Lopez the following day, according to ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer.

Vences-Lopez was released May 16 from jail and transferred to ICE custody the same day “for immigration violations,” according to Neudauer. A federal immigration judge issued an order for removal May 23.

Metro Transit Police have fired Lamers, and a statement from Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington reaffirmed the department’s policy that its officers do not inquire about immigration status.

Despite Metro Transit Police’s statements that they did not notify federal immigration officials about Vences-Lopez, ICE nevertheless became involved. Somewhere between when Vences-Lopez was stopped on the train and his release from the Hennepin County jail, this fare inspection turned into something much more destructive and far scarier for immigrants riding transit.

  • Guest

    In a Latino neighborhood near NYC, I’m hearing from business district people that sales during the day are down 40-60%. People are afraid to come out until nighttime to shop, and even then they aren’t strolling and shopping.

  • ronk1957

    “Riding Transit Should Never Be a Pathway to Deportation”. I am sure that he is being deported for being an illegal alien and not for riding the transit. Stephen Miller , trying to make Usa streets blog #1 in fake news !

  • reasonableexplanation

    So out of curiosity; in your opinion, between the extremes of open borders and closed borders; where does the solution lie?

  • T. N.

    The UK has officers who stand at rail stations and bus stops asking for IDs at random. It’s on YouTube. It’s part of their border patrol enforcement. Also, Vancouver airport in Canada has Border Patrol at the exit of airlines and all over the airport entrance and exits. Canadian immigration policy is so strict that illegal aliens and visa overstayers cannot get a work permit or public assistance.
    What country in the world doesn’t control its borders and looks the other way allowing foreign nationals to enter, live, and work illegally for decades?

  • Drew

    What part of PATHWAY did you not understand? At no point did anyone claim he was deported for using transit. A PATHWAY is something that connects two things- such as “riding the transit” to deportation or education to critical thinking, for example.

  • Steven

    I’ve lived in the UK all my life and never seen this happen in my 45 years. Not once. But, hey, if it’s on YouTube…

  • Ken Dodd

    Sad stuff, but if only he hadn’t resisted…..

  • Andy Chow

    That is a problem with the proof of payment system, in which the fare is enforced for law enforcement officers and violation of fare policy result in legal actions. This is different from the bus or rail systems with fare gates, where the fare is enforced by transit employees with no law enforcement powers and enforce fare by simply denying entry/boarding rather than giving out citations.

    May be on the bus, if someone has a difficulty with paying the fare, the bus driver can simply waive the fare or someone else can pay the fare for that person. I did that once many years ago when the driver refused to continue with the trip when a rider was short on his fare. I don’t want any unnecessary delay so I put a dollar in.

  • Andy Chow

    The reality is that our economy needs undocumented immigrants to provide the necessary labor and provide additional customer base for landlords and other businesses. On the other hand you got essentially racists who either believe that we don’t need the extra labor or customer base, or that these folks somehow deserve more oppression. This basically blocked any reforms since when George W Bush was president.

    The ICE folks would say that they’re simply enforce the laws already on the books, but not everyone agrees with the law and there’s always politics behind it to prevent any reasonable reforms (so they can’t just dismiss it by telling others to go to Congress and change the law there). So even when if ICE and other police do good work most of the times, the very few marginal cases can spark protests and public distrust.

  • T. N.

    UK Border Force- this is the name of the series. There are seasons and episodes. You can enter the series name above on YouTube or Netflix and watch it. It’s about border control. I was just at YVR, Vancouver Airport, this past weekend and saw the Canadian border patrols at the airport. They do random stops and ask for IDs.

  • Chicagoan

    Similar issue along the commercial 26th Street in Little Village, which is a proud Mexican & Mexican-American neighborhood in Chicago. The street bustles and has a strong core of Latino-owned restaurants & shops, but a number have experienced falling sales. It’s sad when people are so scared that they can’t even go for a stroll.

  • T. N.

    UK Border Force is the name of the series.

  • Frank Kotter

    Yes, zealous and (let’s be honest) often fascist cops are embarrassing our own society on a daily basis. This is well established and brother Andy here exemplifies this.

    However, if I was living illegally in another country I would be pretty damn sure I didn’t engage in antisocial behavior in order to protect myself from police interaction. This guy was indeed first busted for not buying a ticket, right?

  • Dexter Wong

    Going after law-abiding (aside from immigration issues) undocumented people is the low-hanging fruit that the Trump Administration has chosen to pick because it is easier than having to hunt for violent criminal undocumented people. Yes, they’re going after the “good hombres” if they have no papers.

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    The “pathway” was a series of legal violations that brought him into further contact with law enforcement. First, he didn’t have a fare to ride transit. Then, he didn’t comply after getting busted for that. So he ends up in custody and they check his immigration status, and it turns out he’s here illegally. He got deported because he made a series of bad choices that led to him getting caught. If you’re an undocumented alien, don’t do stupid things to bring “the man” into your life.

    Seriously, these kinds of stories have no business on Streetsblog and it undermines the credibility of the blog. It becomes more about SJW issues and less about the supposed mission of the blog.

  • ronk1957

    PATHWAY is “a way of achieving a specified result; a course of action.”
    “”riding the transit” to deportation ” is a stretch even for a liberal like you. Let’s say Juan was sneaking across the the border one night. He succeeded in getting here and staying illegally. Two days later he goes to Mcdonalds and gets a cheeseburger . On his way home ICE catches and deports him. Drew writes the story “Cheeseburgers Are A Pathway To Deportation.” Sneaking across the border isn’t a pathway to deportation. Being here illegally isn’t a pathway to deportation. It’s those darn “CHEESEBURGERS” are a pathway to deportation. You would make a great liberal fake news journalist Drew. Here’s to your “critical thinking”.

  • Fandom Cheergurl

    Why didn’t this guy just pay the fare? The cost of legal entry into the US is unaffordable to most of these illegal aliens, but how much is the fare compared to this? It doesn’t matter the degree of his offense, but the fact that he repeatedly ignores and breaks the law. The peace officer is just doing his job by checking for paid fares. He probably asked the guy for ID to write up a citation, but since the guy didn’t have one he proceeded to ask about immigration status. The officer is correct in carrying out his duty.

  • Is this a serious question? How about we flip it around. Why didn’t the officer stay within his mandate? You can suggest that the officer was asking for ID to write up a citation, but Americans are not required to carry ID. And then, how do you explain the officer asking if the individual was here legally. Is that also required for the fine?

    Defending this officer, when even his employer has dismissed him over his act seems to imply some pretty strong bias here.

    You might not care about the freedoms this officer infringed on, but I would hope that some Americans do.

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  • Fandom Cheergurl

    If you noticed, I mentioned the guy should have just paid his fare. This would have averted the problem. The peace officer probably asked about immigration status when the guy did not answer the question about his ID. The officer was doing his job. He did not ask about immigration status right off the bat. Why should the officer be punished? Many people are employed by public transit. These agencies need to collect ridership fare to be able to pay their employees’ wages. If everyone jumped the fare they’d go bankrupt and many people would be out of a job. I’m not being biased, but rather pointing out the obvious. If I had been there, I would give the guy money for his fare. If people really wanted to help, they could do the same. I ride the bus and many drivers would waiver the fare if someone were in a bind. But you have to ask them first.

  • Los Angeles has turnstiles but still has fare enforcement done by LEOs

  • I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but law enforcement officers do not have unlimited powers in your country. He was punished because he exceeded those powers.

    He can prosecute fare evaders, he does not have the right to go after illegal immigrants.

    Nobody is arguing that he should have been allowed to evade the fare, or that he shouldn’t have been fined for it, or even that the officer shouldn’t have been prosecuting it. But if you think deportation is a reasonable response to fare evasion….well….frankly I cannot agree.

    But regardless, it doesn’t matter.

    Its your country that’s obsessed with freedoms, yet seems to be unwilling to give those same freedoms to people of a different colour. One of those freedoms is to not be questioned about your nationality. This is something your country has literally made fun of the Nazis for doing since WWII.

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