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.

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